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Promising new cancer treatment has people buzzing

Two new drugs that kill cancerous tumors in mice have people talking -- a lot  

In this story:

May 5, 1998
Web posted at: 11:16 p.m. EDT (0316 GMT)

From Medical Correspondent Dr. Steve Salvatore

NEW YORK (CNN) -- The news over the weekend that researchers have discovered promising new drugs that kill cancerous tumors in mice continues to be a hot topic of conversation, and not just in medical circles.

"I think the public response in this particular report was a little more brisk than we normally see, not only because the therapy is so exciting in concept, but also because it was featured on the front cover of The New York Times," said Dr. Larry Norton, chief of medical oncology at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. icon 136 K / 12 sec. AIFF or WAV sound

Researchers at the National Cancer Institute reported that they have used two drugs to eliminate cancerous tumors in mice.

Adding further excitement to the discovery is that the drugs -- endostatin and angiostatin -- appear to work against all types of cancers, including leukemia.


VXtreme streaming video (2:20)

And unlike chemotherapy and radiation, which can leave unpleasant side-effects such as nausea, endostatin and angiostatin appear to be easier to tolerate. Bleeding and getting the wound to heal seem to be the most serious side effects of the new treatment.

The researchers also found that tumors do not become resistant to the drugs, as they sometimes do with chemotherapy.

Most of the calls Chiaro receives at the National Cancer Institute are about the new treatment  

Calls at cancer institute way up

The breakthrough has people excited and eager to know more.

At the institute's cancer information service in New York, information specialists say the volume of calls is way up, and that most people want to know more about the new drugs.

"I would say that of the calls that I have taken today, about 95 percent were on this new treatment," said Maria Chiaro, a cancer information specialist.

"Most people are looking for information," said Laurie Williams, another information specialist. "They would like to know what their treatment options are and if this treatment would be appropriate for them."

They are also talking about it on the Internet. Chat rooms are full of conversation about the new breakthrough, and the opinions are varied.

Some are hopeful, calling it, as one person did, "the best alternative I can imagine to chemo, surgery, immune therapy or death."

Others are more pessimistic: "If you're a mouse and you have cancer, we have something we can do for you."

And some are cautious, like the person who wrote, "Don't complain about a long study. They need to be thorough, without haste. Remember fen-phen and thalidomide."

Human trials with the drugs are expected to begin by the end of the year.

A new era of cancer treatment

Generally, new information of this sort gives hope, but sometimes it gives the wrong kind of hope.

"We had one very disturbing episode where a patient refused therapy that would help her because she said that clearly a non-toxic, more effective therapy was coming up in the future," said Norton of Sloan-Kettering.

Overall, the public is getting the message that there is a new era of cancer treatment and that one day the disease may be limited or even cured. It's a day that researchers say is right around the corner, and that, clearly, is something worth talking about.


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