Skin Rash From Erbitux Linked to Improved Lung Cancer Survival

Lung cancer patients who developed a rash following treatment with cetuximab (Erbitux) lived longer than those who displayed no such side effects, according to researchers at Hospital Grosshandsdorf in Germany.

While drug side effects are generally seen as a negative outcome of treatment, it would appear that individuals taking Erbitux might come to view skin rash as a positive sign.

For the study, the German researchers looked at hundreds of patients who had been diagnosed with non-small-cell lung cancer. Of the 518 patients reviewed who had taken Erbitux, it was noted that approximately 70 percent eventually reported an acne-like rash on the skin. This rash typically showed up within the first three weeks of treatment.

Surprisingly, the researchers noted that this sector of patients went on to live much longer than the non-rash sector. On average, those who reported a rash survived for 15 months, while those without a rash survived an average of 8.8 months.

Additionally, patients with the rash displayed an increased stoppage of cancer progression (5.4 months compared to 4.3 months).

While it is currently unclear why a skin rash may be an indicator to success rate for Erbitux, the findings could help doctors assess the effectiveness of lung cancer treatments in the future. Presumably, the manifestation of skin rash would indicate that Erbitux is delivering a positive effect on an individual’s cancer. As such, absence of the rash may help identify patients who need to be switched to an alternative treatment method.

Before such avenues can be recommended, the German team stresses that additional studies must be conducted to validate these initial findings. According to Dr. Francesco Perrone of the Istituto Nazionale Tumori in Naples, Italy, “The only way to verify the hypothesis that skin rash predicts the benefit of cetuximab is a randomized trial that compares interruption versus continuation of cetuximab in patients with skin rash after three weeks of treatment with cetuximab and chemotherapy.”

Erbitux is currently approved for treatment of squamous cell carcinoma, colorectal cancer and head and neck cancer. The drug is currently in Phase III clinical trials for the treatment of non-small cell lung cancer.

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