New Cancer Drugs Come With More Serious Side Effects

By Amir Khan on July 22, 2012 6:47 PM EDT

Cancer
New cancer drugs come with a higher risk of serious side effects, including diarrhea, skin problems and high blood pressure, according to a new study, (Photo: Reuters)

New cancer drugs come with a higher risk of serious side effects, including diarrhea, skin problems and high blood pressure, according to a new study, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. Researchers analyzed the studies used to get the drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and found that people taking newer drugs experienced more serious side effects than patients taking older drugs.

Researchers said that patients taking newer drugs should be aware of what the side effects, also known as toxicities, might be, and should tell their doctor if they experience anything "unusual."

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"People are willing to accept a certain amount of excess toxicity if they think it's going to increase the chance of having their cancer cured," Susan Ellenberg, a researcher with the University of Pennsylvania, who wasn't involved in the new study, told Reuters Health. "But that's not always true - it really depends on what the toxicity is."

"You've got to consider both efficacy and toxicity in the picture," she continued.

Researchers looked at reports used between 2000 and 2010 by the Food and Drug Administration to evaluate the efficacy and side effects of 38 cancer drugs including Avastin, Taxotere and Suntent. They found that patients taking newer drugs were 40 percent more likely to die from the drug's side effects than patients taking older drugs or a placebo.

However, the benefits of taking the drugs far outweigh the risks, Dr. Shenhong Wu, a cancer doctor from Stony Brook University School of Medicine in New York, who wasn't involved in the new study, told Reuters.

"Overall, at least we can say from clinical trial patients that the benefit (of these drugs) is more than the risks," he said.

Wu also said that real-world results may differ from clinical trials.

"In the real world, patients are complicated; they have all kinds of issues. So the benefits and risks may be different," Wu said.

Dr. Eitan Amir, study author and researcher with Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto, told Reuters that people should not stop taking cancer drugs over fear of the side effects.

"These are all drugs which improve outcomes, certainly of cancer, and overall survival," he said. "The only thing we're trying to highlight is, it's not as if you're getting anything for free."

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