Much of Chemo Drug's Effects Are Lost

Study finds patients only metabolize half the typical dose of common medication

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TUESDAY, June 8, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Only about half the delivered dose of the common chemotherapy drug gemcitabine is activated in cancer patients.

University of Pittsburgh researchers presented that finding June 8 at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in New Orleans.

Engineering student Jason Fisher and his colleagues analyzed data from 31 cancer patients who had received 30-minute transfusions of gemcitabine to find out what percentage of the drug dose exceeded the body's ability to activate the drug.

The study found that about 50 percent of the drug dose was likely to be converted to active metabolism. The other half of the dose was likely to be inactivated and possibly not have any therapeutic effect.

"The purpose of the study was to use mathematics and engineering to try to improve cancer therapy," Robert Parker, an assistant professor of chemical engineering, said in a prepared statement.

Parker was Fisher's undergraduate research project advisor.

"We were surprised to find that about half the dose of the drug administered might not be converted into an active form. The implication is that alternative schedules of gemcitabine infusions may need to be evaluated carefully," Parker said.

Gemcitabine is typically used to treat cancer of the lung and pancreas, although it sometimes is prescribed for other types of cancer, according to the National Library of Medicine.

More information

The American Cancer Society has more about chemotherapy.

SOURCE: University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, news release, June 8, 2004

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