The findings of the preliminary study with 24 patients are reported in the April 20 issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
"Even though this was a small study, we found that we could deliver more chemotherapy when combined with the drug etanercept," said lead author Miguel A. Villalona-Calero, an associate professor of hematology and oncology and of pharmacology at Ohio State.
"This shows promise in helping reduce fatigue in cancer patients while increasing their ability to tolerate higher doses of chemotherapy on a more frequent basis," said Villalona-Calero, who is also researcher at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC James).
Patients' fatigue the state of overwhelming and sustained exhaustion that is not relieved by rest often hinders physicians' ability to deliver chemotherapy to them on schedule because of their weakened state.
The fatigue and muscle wasting that are associated with cancer are largely caused when immune cells release a substance known as tumor necrosis factor (TNF). Although TNF historically has been studied for its anticancer properties, recent studies indicate that TNF probably promotes tumor growth instead of hindering it.
The drug etanercept is a decoy receptor that blocks interaction with TNF. The researchers hypothesized that the drug might therefore work like a sponge to "soak up" TNF and lower the amount of the substance in the body, which would decrease tumor growth and help reduce fatigue.
They tested the idea in patients who were being treated with the chemotherapy drug docetaxel.