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Treatments for Problems from Anticancer Drugs

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May 16, 2006

CHICAGO --- Northwestern University has launched the nation's first program to treat skin conditions resulting from anticancer drugs. 

The Cancer Skin Care (Cancer Study of Chemotherapy-induced Cutaneous Adverse Reactions) Program was established to develop research and clinical management strategies for skin conditions in cancer patients or those that arise as a result of anticancer therapies.

Drugs against cancer can frequently lead to side effects in the skin, which may lead to interruption of lifesaving anticancer treatments.

One of the first successful efforts of the Cancer Skin Care Program is a clinic formed by a group of specialists addressing skin and eye effects of newer anticancer drugs, described in the May issue of the Journal of Supportive Oncology.

The study addresses side effects to targeted therapies, a new group of drugs that directly block proteins involved in cancer.  Targeted therapies include the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) and other kinase inhibitors, which have been used successfully to treat head and neck, lung, colorectal, kidney and pancreatic cancers.

Although these drugs do not have the diffuse and bone marrow side effects of conventional chemotherapy, 60 percent of patients will develop facial acne-like rashes, swelling and dry, irritated skin. Many of these patients also experience abnormal eyelash growth, dry eye and other eye disorders that may cause significant discomfort and blurred vision.

Further complicating the dramatic skin reactions is the psychological and physical distress to the patient, said Mario E. Lacouture, M.D., who heads the Cancer Skin Care Program and is lead author on the study.

“Many patients who experience chemotherapy-induced skin reactions don't want to leave their homes, and some would rather stop their chemotherapy than live with the discomfort and anxiety. Improving their quality of life is a paramount concern,” Lacouture said.

Lacouture is assistant professor of dermatology at the Feinberg School of Medicine, a dermatologist at the Northwestern Medical Faculty Foundation and Northwestern Memorial Hospital and a researcher at The Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University.

The Cancer Skin Care Program includes dermatologists, cancer specialists, ophthalmologists and basic scientists from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and The Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University.

The multidisciplinary clinic focuses on early diagnosis and treatment of reactions to targeted anticancer drugs, and patient education to ensure compliance with chemotherapy regimens and minimize the need for drug dose decrease, interruption or discontinuation.

The enhanced communication between the Cancer Skin Care Program's specialists has created new opportunities for patient care, education and research, Lacouture said.

Another Cancer Skin Care Program specialist (and co-author on the article) is Surendra Basti, M.D., associate professor of ophthalmology, who focuses on eye complications to anticancer therapies.

The Cancer Skin Care Program is supported by a Zell Scholarship awarded to Dr. Lacouture.

For information on the Cancer Skin Care Program, call (312) 695-8106.