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Bone Cancer Drug Shrinks Cervical Tumors

But mouse study doesn't prove treatment works in women

FRIDAY, Sept. 3, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- In what may be good news for cervical cancer patients, a new study suggests a bone cancer drug seems to shrink the size of these tumors in mice.

But an expert cautioned that promising test results in animals don't always translate into effective treatments for humans.

"Women shouldn't put in a lot of hope that this will change surgical treatments or outcomes anytime soon," said Debbie Saslow, director of breast and gynecological cancer for the American Cancer Society. "I hope I'm wrong."

In the United States, the number of women with cervical cancer is fairly small, a fact that doctors attribute to the popularity of Pap smears. The gynecological tests detect precancerous cells, often in time for successful treatment. Worldwide, however, cervical cancer, which affects the lower part of the uterus, is the second most common cancer among women.

About 10,000 American women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, and 3,900 die of it. Doctors typically try to kill the tumors through a variety of techniques, including laser or freezing therapy, surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.

Survivability is generally "a matter of how early you detect it," Saslow said. "If the cancer is detected late, it may have already spread to areas where you can't remove it all."

In the new study, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco tested a drug called zoledronic acid -- known by the brand name Zometa -- on mice infected with a form of cervical cancer similar to that in humans. The drug is already approved in the United States as a treatment for bone cancer patients. Novartis, the manufacturer of the drug, didn't fund the new research, which appears in the Sept. 1 issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

According to the study, the drug slowed the growth of cervical tumors and disrupted the mice's production of new blood vessels to feed the cancer.

However, similar drugs have proven to be failures, cautioned Saslow. "We've had years of disappointing results when these drugs that work well in animals are tested in humans," she said.

For now, she said, women should focus on stopping cervical cancer in its tracks by getting regular Pap smears.

"The majority of deaths are in women who either have never been screened or haven't been screened in a long time, five years or more," Saslow said. "Our biggest message about cervical cancer is: Get screened."

More information

To learn more about cervical cancer, visit the American Cancer Society.

SOURCES: Debbie Saslow, Ph.D., director, breast and gynecological cancer, American Cancer Society, Atlanta; Sept. 1, 2004, Journal of Clinical Investigation
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