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Collaborative study finds most effective way to treat kidney cancer

The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSC) is part of a collaborative drug study that found what could be the most effective way to treat renal cell carcinoma (kidney cancer). The disease kills an estimated 11,900 Americans a year.

The Cytokine Working Group (CWG) released the test results this spring. CWG is a collaborative research group consisting of 11 expert cancer centers in North America, including the UTHSC. Geoffrey Weiss, M.D., professor and deputy chairman of the department of medicine, conducted the study in San Antonio.

The results show an aggressive, high-dose regimen of the drug aldesleukin is more than twice as effective in treating kidney cancer than a low-dose therapy. Patients showed a 25 percent response rate with the high-dose regimen and a 12 percent response rate with the low-dose treatment.

Despite the overwhelming results, Dr. Weiss said many physicians continue to shy away from the high-dose therapy because of the toxicity and the cost. The high-dose treatment can cause temporary renal malfunction, decline in blood pressure, liver function abnormalities, skin changes, fever, chills, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. Patients are required to stay in the hospital for two six-day intervals over a period of three weeks.

The low-dose treatment carries similar side effects but fewer kidney and blood pressure problems. Patients are treated on an outpatient basis five days a week for four weeks. "The high-dose regimen has more risks, but the risks associated with the treatment can well be handled by doctors who are experienced in the use of high-dose therapy," Dr. Weiss said. "The downside is that it is exorbitantly expensive and many insurance companies won't pay for it."

The Phase 3 trial of high-dose aldesleukin enrolled 193 patients across the nation, including 13 from the San Antonio area.

Contact: Will Sansom or Amanda Gallagher