The study, published in the May 15, 2002, issue of Journal of Clinical Oncology, investigated the ability of the drug Zevalin to hone in on and kill off the non-Hodgkins lymphoma B cells. Zevalin is the first radioimmunotherapy drug developed specifically to fight this common but usually fatal cancer of the lymph glands that, for unknown reasons, is on the increase in the United States. About 56,000 people are diagnosed with this cancer annually.
The randomized study involved 143 patients with B cell non-Hodgkins lymphoma who had previously failed the standard chemotherapy treatments. The study found that 80 percent of patients who received Zevalin experienced a positive response in that their tumor shrunk. That compared to a 56 percent response rate in patients receiving only Rituxan, another drug used to treat the cancer.
Most noteworthy, 30 percent of the patients receiving Zevalin achieved complete remission with no evidence of the cancer present, compared to only 16 percent of patients taking Rituxan.
Radioimmunotherapy combines monoclonal antibodies, which are antibodies produced in a laboratory to react against a cancer cell, with the ability of radiation to kill off cancer cells. The mixture of radiation and antibodies is given intravenously and travels through the bloodstream to the cancer cells.
Unlike chemotherapy which goes through the whole body, Zevalin carries the radiation payload directly to the tumor, says Thomas Witzig, M.D., a Mayo Clinic hematologist. The drug radiates only about a five millimeter area around the tumor.
Along with its ability to hone in on cancer cells, the drug is easier on patients physically.