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Amifostine makes radiation more effective, eases side effects


Doctors in Brazil have concluded that the drug amifostine eases many of the most common side effects associated with patients receiving radiation therapy to treat their cancer while simultaneously making the cancer more susceptible to radiation. The study was published in the March 1, 2006, issue of the International Journal of Radiation Oncology*Biology*Physics, the official journal of ASTRO, the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology.

The researchers set out to evaluate, via a clinical investigation of already published work, whether adding amifostine to radiation therapy would prevent common side effects, such as mouth dryness, difficulty swallowing, lung inflammation, bladder inflammation, problems with the esophagus and inflammation of the mucous membranes. In some cases, these side effects can be severe enough that the patients’ treatment has to be suspended or stopped completely – potentially preventing their cancer from being completely cured. The other major purpose of the study was to discover if amifostine would inadvertently protect the tumor from radiation.

The investigators narrowed their research to 14 randomized, controlled trials in which 1,451 patients were split into two groups: one receiving radiation therapy alone and the second receiving radiation therapy in addition to amifostine. Patients taking amifostine were shown to have less radiation-related side effects. The research also showed that the drug did not protect the tumor from the radiation therapy and patients receiving the drug were more likely to have their cancer affected by the radiation than patients not given amifostine.

Taking amifostine does have some drawbacks, with nausea and vomiting being the most common side effects reported. However, the doctors generally were able to control the side effects with anti-nausea medicine.

"Our research shows that adding amifostine to radiation therapy helps reduce side effects while at the same time making the radiation treatments more effective at killing the cancer cells," said Andre Deeke Sasse, M.D., a radiation oncologist at Nucleo Brasileiro de Oncologia Baseada em Evidencias in Sao Paolo, Brazil. "We recommend that patients undergoing radiation therapy for cancer ask their doctor about adding amifostine to their treatment."

Nick Lashinsky | EurekAlert!
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