THURSDAY, May 18, 2017 (HealthDay News) -- The chemotherapy drug Xeloda may prolong survival in those struck by a type of digestive system cancer, a new study finds.
People with bile duct cancer who received the medication lived for an average of about 17 months longer than those who didn't take it, the researchers found. Based on the findings, the study authors suggested that Xeloda should be given routinely to patients with this disease.
Bile duct cancer -- which occurs in an area that connects the liver, gallbladder and the small intestine -- is rare and aggressive. It affects an estimated 8,000 people in the United States each year, according to the American Cancer Society.
A statement from Cancer Research UK, which funded the new study, said it's difficult to study treatments for bile duct cancer because so few patients are available to take part in clinical trials.
For the study, researchers gave capecitabine (Xeloda) to about half of 450 bile duct cancer patients who underwent surgery. The other half underwent surgery but didn't get the drug.
The average survival after surgery for those who took the drug was 53 months compared to 36 months for those who only had surgery, the findings showed.
"While rare, bile duct cancer is difficult to treat and until recently there has been very little progress in treating the disease," said lead researcher John Primrose, of the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom.
"Our results clearly show that patients who have surgery should be given capecitabine, as a result of which more will survive and with few side effects," he said in a Cancer Research UK news release.
The findings are to be presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology's annual meeting in Chicago in June. Research presented at medical meetings is considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
For more about bile duct cancer, visit the American Cancer Society.