New and effective treatments for lung cancer may rest on their ability to hinder the action of estrogen in lung cancer cells, according to two studies published in the current issue of Cancer Research. The University of Pittsburgh studies build on current knowledge about the relationship between estrogen and lung cancer growth and suggest that blocking estrogen may be vitally important to improving survival from the disease.
Since 1930, a 600 percent increase in death rates from lung cancer has been reported in women in the United States, leading some experts to suggest that women may be more susceptible to lung cancer than men. The current research contends that this could be due to the effects of estrogen on the lungs. "Our studies continue to show that lung cancer cells grow in response to estrogen and that stopping or slowing the spread of the disease may be dependent on blocking the action of estrogen," said Jill Siegfried, Ph.D., professor, department of pharmacology and co-leader, Lung and Thoracic Malignancies Program, University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute. "In fact, in previous studies, we have observed that lung tumor cells contain estrogen receptors at levels comparable to breast cancer cells." A receptor is a structure on the surface of a cell that selectively receives and binds substances.
In the first study, Laura Stabile, Ph.D., instructor in the department of pharmacology at the University of Pittsburgh, and colleagues examined methods to block the action of estrogen in human lung tumors grafted in mice. They compared the effect of blocking the estrogen receptor (ER) pathway alone to blocking it in combination with another receptor pathway – the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR). The investigators combined an agent approved for inhibiting the EGFR pathway, gefitinib (Iressa®), with an anti-estrogen agent, fulvestrant (Faslodex®) – a treatment commonly used to manage breast cancer in women with ER positive tumors, but not yet approved for clinical lung cancer treatment. They found that the combined treatment resulted in a tumor volume decrease of 59 percent, compared to a 49 percent decrease for gefitinib treatment alone and a 32 percent decrease for fulvestrant treatment alone. They also found that lung tumors in the combined treatment group were comprised mainly of dead and dying cells, while the number of these cells in the single treatment groups was significantly lower. The study suggests that an interaction between treatments that target both ER and EGFR may enhance the anti-tumor effects of therapy over the use of each agent alone. A pilot clinical trial is already underway testing the combination therapy in women with advanced lung cancer.
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