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Tuesday, 13 August, 2002, 00:05 GMT 01:05 UK
Asbestos cancer survival boost
Chemotherapy syringe
The new treatment extended the lives of patients
Cancer caused by exposure to asbestos fibres normally kills within months - but scientists say a new chemotherapy treatment could prolong life.

While the anti-cancer combination tested at the University of Newcastle did not cure mesothelioma, it did add precious months to the lives of people who were given it.

Experts are predicting a surge in the number of cases of mesothelioma over the next few decades.

It is thought to be caused by long-term inflammation of the lung surface where it comes into contact with asbestos fibres.

The disease often does not appear for three or four decades, and the rise reflects the high numbers of people exposed to asbestos fibres in the 1950s and 1960s.

Poor chances

Currently, 1,700 people are diagnosed every year, and the disease is frequently inoperable, responding poorly to radiotherapy and conventional chemotherapy.

The Newcastle University research involved patients given a combination of two drugs - a new one called Pemextred, plus an existing cancer drug called carboplatin.

On average, those given the two drugs survived for 13 to 14 months. A handful made it past the three year mark.

Previously, people diagnosed with mesothelioma might expect to live between six or eight months.

'Remarkable activity'

Professor Hilary Calvert, who led the study, said: "The drug combination showed remarkable activity in mesothelioma.

"Our study provided the first convincing demonstration that permextred and carboplatin might be useful in the treatment of the disease."

Subsequent larger trials of the drug combination have reported similar results.

It is expected that the number of mesothelioma cases diagnosed each year will double by 2020.

Dr Lesley Walker, from Cancer Research UK, said: "Mesothelioma is a serious condition that is difficult to treat so this is an important development.

"We now need to look closely at the drug's performance in the next stages of clinical trials to see how it compares to other anti-cancer drugs."

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The BBC's Richard Wells
"Cancer attacks membranes inside the chest and outside the lungs"
See also:

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