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Cancer treatment success

26th September 2011

Researchers at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London have finished a drug trial early because it worked so well.

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The doctors were testing the efficiency of a new cancer drug which targets tumours by using alpha radiation.

They found that prostate cancer patients who were treated with the drug suffered less pain, side effects and had longer life expectancy than those not treated with the drug.

The researchers brought the trial to a close early as they considered it "unethical" not to offer all the patients a chance to take the drug.

Around 36,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year and it causes around 10,000 deaths annually.

The study's lead researcher, Dr Chris Parker, told the BBC they had used an alpha radiation drug called radium-223 which worked better than beta radiation.

"It's more damaging. It takes one, two, three hits to kill a cancer cell compared with thousands of hits for beta particles."

The trial took patients who had secondary cancers - where tumours have spread to the bone - and gave half of them the drug along with chemotherapy, while the other half received a placebo along with chemotherapy.

They found that death rates were reduced by 30% in the group taking the drug and patients lived an average of 14 months compared to 11 months in the placebo group.

The researchers stopped the trial as "it would have been unethical not to offer the active treatment to those taking placebo," Dr Parker explained.

He added: "I think it will be a significant step forward for cancer patients". 

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