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New Drug for Rare Cancer

Usually related to asbestos exposure

THURSDAY, Feb. 5, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the first drug to treat pleural mesothelioma, a rare cancer that's usually linked to asbestos exposure.

Only about 2,000 new cases are diagnosed each year of this type of cancer, which affects the mesothelium -- a membrane that covers and protects most of the body's internal organs. By the time symptoms appear, the cancer is usually advanced, and patients wind up living an average of nine to 13 months.

Alimta (pemetrexed disodium) was approved to be used in combination with another chemotherapy drug, cisplatin. In clinical trials, patients given the combination lived an average of three months longer than those who took cisplatin alone.

The drug should be administered with vitamin B-12 and folic acid to minimize side effects, which include low white blood cell count, nausea, fatigue, rash, and diarrhea.

The FDA says the medication was given priority review and orphan drug status -- signaling a medication developed to treat rare conditions affecting fewer than 200,000 people. As a result, distributor Eli Lilly and Co. will be given a seven-year period of exclusive marketing rights, the agency says in a statement.

To learn more about mesothelioma, visit the U.S. National Cancer Institute.

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