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The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved the chemotherapy agent Alimta® (pemetrexed) for treatment of recurrent non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

Lung cancer remains the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States and worldwide. There are several different types of lung cancer, depending upon which type of cell within the lung the cancer originated. Non-small cell lung cancer is the most common type of lung cancer, comprising approximately 75%-80% of all lung cancers in the U.S. Recurrent NSCLC refers to cancer that has recurred following prior therapy. Standard treatment for recurrent NSCLC typically includes the chemotherapy agent Taxotere® (docetaxel).

Alimta® is a chemotherapy agent that is the only approved agent for the treatment of malignant mesothelioma, a rare but very aggressive type of lung cancer. The clinical trial that prompted the additional approval of Alimta® for NSCLC was based upon a large clinical trial that directly compared Taxotere® to Alimta® as second-line therapy in patients with advanced NSCLC. This trial included patients who had a cancer recurrence following initial treatment for NSCLC. Half of the patients were treated with Alimta®, while the other half were treated with Taxotere®. Overall survival and anti-cancer responses were similar between the two groups of patients, while those treated with Alimta® suffered from fewer severe side effects. Overall survival was 8.3 months for those treated with Alimta®, compared with 7.9 months for those treated with Taxotere®. Anti-cancer responses were achieved in 9.1% of patients treated with Alimta®, compared with 8.8% of patients treated with Taxotere®. Patients treated with Alimta® suffered from less severe side effects including low levels of white blood cells, infection, diarrhea, hair loss and hospitalization from side effects of treatment.

Patients with recurrent NSCLC may wish to speak with their physician about their individual risks and benefits of treatment with Alimta®.

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