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Drug may combat weight loss during radiation treatments

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. A new study by researchers at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center and colleagues shows that a drug originally used to treat breast cancer may help combat the severe weight loss that can plague patients undergoing radiation treatment for lung and head and neck cancer.

"The drug clearly reduced weight loss and improved quality of life in study patients," said Michael Farmer, M.D., who presented the results last month at the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology (ASTRO) meeting in Denver.

The research involved megestrol acetate, a synthetic form of the female hormone progesterone. The drug was originally used as an anti-hormonal treatment for breast cancer and was found to induce weight gain as a side effect. Later studies showed the drug's effectiveness as an appetite stimulant for patients with HIV, chronic diseases and cancer cachexia, a "wasting syndrome" in which fat and muscle are lost because of the presence of a cancerous tumor.

Weight loss can also be a problem in patients undergoing radiation treatment for lung cancer and cancers of the head and neck, such as cancer in the mouth or throat. The high doses of radiation used to treat these cancers can cause decreased appetite and weight loss, nausea and painful swallowing. These patients typically receive radiation alone or a combination of radiation and chemotherapy, which can worsen the side effects of treatment, particularly nausea.

"Due to the pain and nausea, it is very difficult for patients to eat sufficient quantities of food and drink proper amounts of fluid during treatment," said Farmer. "It is a critical time to maintain adequate food intake and hydration, yet one of the most frequent complaints from patients during this type of therapy is a decreased appetite."

Farmer said the expected mean weight loss among these patients is about 12 pounds after eight weeks of radiation therapy and that weight loss is a signi
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Contact: Karen Richardson
krchrdsn@wfubmc.edu
336-716-4453
Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center
22-Nov-2005


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