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Oral treatment for lung cancer launched

Contrary to popular belief, there are other ways to treat lung cancer besides chemotherapy—and may be in a form of a tablet.

Pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim introduced in the country a form of targeted therapy that would supplement traditional chemotherapy in preventing cancer cells to spread. Afatinib, an oral treatment used specifically for nonsmall cell lung cancer (NSCLC) patients, works as a blocker and stops the mutation of cancer cells.

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NSCLC, the most common type of lung cancer (the other, which is the small cell lung cancer), has accounted 85 percent, or 12,074, of all lung cancer cases in 2012. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths for Filipino men and second for Filipino women, next to breast cancer. According to the National Tobacco Control Strategy, there were 8,519 deaths recorded in 2011.

‘Lock and key’ concept

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Dr. Necy Juat, an oncologist at the National Kidney and Transplant Institute, said lung cancer cells have a “lock and key” concept when mutating.

Juat said: “EGFR (epidermal growth factor receptor) mutation is present at the tumor. It’s like a lock and key… when the key opens the lock, you’ll have an uncontrolled cell growth. Cancer cells will proliferate.”

Afatinib, which works best for nonsmall cell adenocarcinoma, stops this “lock and key” process. But before ingesting Afatinib, Juat said patients must know what type of lung cancer they have first.

EGFR testing

“If you find out that it is a nonsmall cell adenocarcinoma, then the option is you test it for EGFR mutation,” she said.

EGFR testing recommended by oncologists will determine how a patient will be treated. It is offered by hospitals that are equipped and costs around P50,000 to P60,000. Some pharmaceutical companies, however, are giving out free EGFR testing.

“If the mutation turns out positive, then you have the option of taking the oral treatment for lung cancer,” Juat said. Other treatment options include invasive removal of cancer cells, radiation therapy that shrinks or kills the cancer cells, or chemotherapy.

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Dr. Melvin Pasay, a pulmonologist from St. Luke’s Medical Center, meanwhile said that because Afatinib is now available in the Philippines, risks of lung cancer will now be easily reduced.

Pasay said: “Afatinib showed superior efficacy versus chemotherapy in the first-line setting of EGFR mutation-positive advanced NSCLC.”

Approved oral treatment

Afatinib is approved in several countries in Europe and Asia including Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand and South Korea. It was approved in the Philippines in October 2014 and launched in January.

Both Juat and Pasay, however, said a patient cannot claim he/she is cancer-free, that is why it is still important to prevent its causes and take care of one’s health.

Juat said: “Cigarette smokers, secondhand smokers, and those with occupational or environmental exposure are at risk. If a person quits before cancer develops, the damaged lung tissue gradually improves.”

Pasay added: “Firsthand smokers still has greater risks than secondhand smokers. Not even for lung cancer, but for other diseases that directly points to cigarette smoking.”

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TAGS: health and wellness, lung cancer, oral treatment
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