Updates from the American Society of Clinical Oncology's Annual Meeting

Cancer researchers and clinicians gathered in Chicago to discuss advances in cancer research.

The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) hosted its 50th annual meeting in Chicago from May 30 to June 3, bringing together more than 34,600 cancer researchers, physicians, industry professionals, advocates and survivors to report on advances in cancer screening, diagnosis, treatment and prevention. For more coverage of the conference, visit curemagazine.com/asco_2014.

Hormone therapy is a standard treatment for men with advanced prostate cancer, but when the cancer progresses, chemotherapy is often used. Researchers questioned whether chemotherapy would improve survival if it was given earlier, during hormone therapy and before the cancer becomes resistant. The investigators found that combining the chemotherapy drug docetaxel early in treatment with hormone therapy improved survival by 10 months in patients with newly diagnosed, stage 4 hormone-sensitive prostate cancer.

The trial studied 790 men, with about two-thirds having extensive metastases. Median overall survival improved from 44 months to 57.6 months, and men with extensive metastases saw an improvement from 32.2 months to 49.2 months—a 17-month improvement. Overall survival in men with less extensive metastases is not yet known, but researchers are continuing to follow the group to determine whether there is a benefit from the combination.

The addition of chemotherapy resulted in one treatment-related death out of 397 participants. Participants also reported neuropathy as well as low white blood cell counts and fever, which could result in increased infection risk.

“The benefit in patients with a high volume of metastases is clear and justifies the treatment burden,” said Christopher Sweeney, the study’s lead author and an oncologist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. “Longer follow-up is required for patients with low volume metastatic disease.”

Michael Morris, an oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, provided commentary after the presentation and noted the large jump in survival is practically unheard of in this patient population. “If you look at every drug that prolongs survival in castration-resistant disease, none even come close in terms of survival prolongation to 17 months. Our best therapies in metastatic castration-resistant disease are less than a third of that for the high-volume patients in [the] ECOG3805 [study],” he said, noting that the combination uses a generic, older chemotherapy at a fraction of the cost of newer therapies. —Elizabeth Whittington

After a long period with little progress, a number of new therapies for treating melanoma have been highlighted at recent ASCO annual meetings, and this year was no exception. Hoping to build on the successful introduction of the immunotherapy drug Yervoy (ipilimumab), researchers investigated whether it would be effective in treating patients with earlier-stage disease who remained at high risk of recurrence after surgery. Yervoy was approved in 2011 for treating inoperable, late-stage melanoma.

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