Living for Years With Stage 4 Cancer

Advanced cancers responded well to interleukin combination therapy

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) One can't have a much more serious health issue than stage 4 cancer. Treatment options are often limited and those that are available could be extremely expensive.

Recently presented research shows that combination of drugs may extend the lives of people living with advanced cancers.

The lives of people with a variety of advanced cancers have been extended by a number of years using a combination drug therapy with existing drugs. Findings from this research were presented at the recent American Association of Cancer Research 2012 conference.

"Research and learn about all your treatment options."

Francesco Recchia, M.D., director of oncology at the Civilian Hospital in Avezzano, Italy, has been working with patients with stage 4 cancers since 1995.

His first was an individual with metastatic melanoma, who didn't respond well to high doses of interleukin-2 (IL-2) therapy.

“The patient was treated with lower doses, and he had a wonderful, long-lasting response,” Dr. Recchia said.

Following this, he performed several studies to evaluate the results of IL-2 with and without 13-cis retinoic acid (Accutane). Based on these results, Dr. Recchia conducted a phase II study of the combination with 80 people who had benefited from chemotherapy. "The results were very interesting," he said.

Next, researchers tested the combination therapy with 500 people who had a variety of stage 4 tumors. After their standard cancer therapy, the participants were assigned a one-year regimen that included both drugs.

In a follow-up conducted five years later, the patients had an increased number of immune cells that attack and kill cancer cells. There was also a decrease in the growth of tumor blood vessel networks.

At 15 years, 32.6 percent of the patients were alive and disease-free, and overall, 36.8 percent of the individuals were still alive.  

“These studies had such good and unexpected results that I thought it would not be ethical to conduct a randomized study without this immunotherapy regimen,” Recchia said.

The cancers involved in the study that benefited from this immunotherapy included: ovarian cancer, non-small cell lung cancer, cardiac metastases of sarcoma, colorectal cancer, gastric cancer, renal cell carcinoma, melanoma, head and neck cancer, breast cancer, pancreatic cancer and recurrent ovarian cancer, Dr. Recchia reported.

More people with common metastatic cancers were alive at five years (five-year survival rate) after this regimen, than is reported by National Cancer Institute Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results data:

  • Breast (42.7 percent vs. 23.3 percent)
  • Lung (26.4 percent vs. 3.6 percent)
  • Colorectal (43.6 percent vs. 11.7 percent)
  • Renal (23 percent vs. 11 percent)

Despite these optimistic results, blinded, controlled, randomized trials must be conducted before clinicians could begin using this maintenance therapy.

Research is considered preliminary before it is published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
April 12, 2012
Last Updated:
April 13, 2012