New drug for deadly, super-fast cancer

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ALL is a cancer that creates too many white blood cells.
ALL is a cancer that creates too many white blood cells.

Have you heard of this deadly cancer that spreads rapidly throughout your body? Most people aren't familiar with B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL), a rapidly growing cancer that occurs when the bone marrow makes too many B-cell lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell.

Fortunately the US Food and Drug Adminstration has now approved the anti-cancer drug Besponsa (inotuzumab ozogamicin) to treat ALL.

At this stage, it is not clear whether the drug is already approved for use in South Africa.

A deadly cancer

This cancer is so deadly because of its acute nature (spreads quickly). And if there are too many white blood cells in the blood, it becomes thick and syrupy, leading to less oxygen delivered to the body's organs, including the brain.

Almost 6 000 people in the United States are likely to be diagnosed with the disease this year, and more than 1 400 are projected to die from it, according to estimates from the US National Cancer Institute. According to Health24, this is also the most common form of leukaemia in children, but it also occurs in adults.

New treatment option

"For adult patients with B-cell ALL whose cancer has not responded to initial treatment or has returned after treatment, life expectancy is typically low," Dr Richard Pazdur, director of the FDA's Oncology Center of Excellence, said in an agency news release. "These patients have few treatments available and today's approval provides a new, targeted treatment option."

Besponsa was evaluated in clinical studies involving 326 people with relapsed or refractory B-cell ALL who had received one or two prior treatments with other medication. More than 35% of people evaluated achieved complete remission for about eight months after taking Besponsa, compared with about 17% of those who took a different chemotherapy drug.

Side effects

Common side effects of Besponsa included low blood platelets, low white-blood-cell count, infection, anaemia, fatigue and severe bleeding.

The drug's label includes a boxed warning of possible severe liver damage. Pregnant or breast-feeding women shouldn't take Besponsa, the FDA said.

Image supplied by iStock.

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