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CNN Today

Researchers Making Advances in Fight Against Cancer

Aired May 23, 2000 - 2:20 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: New cutting-edge technology in the battle against cancer could help you and your doctor make better decisions on your medical treatment or help you avoid the needless surgery.

And we have CNN medical correspondent Rhonda Rowland with us to tell us all about this new procedure.

RHONDA ROWLAND, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, yes, that's right, Lou.

And first, on the treatment front, cancer specialists meeting in New Orleans are talking about a new, experimental approach called anti-angiogenesis. Drugs are used to essentially strangle a tumor's blood supply, so the cancer stops growing.

One therapy, known as anti-VEGF, was studied in patients with incurable non-small cell lung cancer. Those who received chemotherapy alone took four months for the tumor to progress. Patients who received both the anti-VEGF therapy and chemotherapy took seven months for the tumor to grow.

Some patients who have been followed longer actually doubled the expected life span. Researchers also reported results of anti- angiogenesis therapies in advanced colon and breast cancers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. HARMON EYRE, AMERICAN CANCER SOCIETY: There are several hundred patients in clinical trials at any one time on anti- angiogenesis agents, and we're beginning to see some valued responses in humans

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROWLAND: Scientists at the cancer meeting are also talking about what may be a better way to diagnose cancer and predict who is more likely to survive the disease. Typically, doctors use CAT scans, which look at the shape and structure of tumors. But researchers using PET scans, which can look at cell activity in lung cancer patients, found some who appeared cured on a CAT scan actually showed active cancer on a PET scan. What may show up as, say, scar tissue on a CAT scan may actually be a hidden cancer. Now the implications of this finding is, by using PET scans, some patients may get more appropriate treatment or they may be able to avoid a biopsy or treatment altogether -- Lou.

WATERS: Well, if I thought I had cancer or I have a history of cancer in my family, I would perhaps want a PET scan, would I not? And can I get one?

ROWLAND: That's exactly right. But the problem is CAT -- PET scans are not available at all medical centers or hospitals, and the reason is because this equipment, this technology is very expensive. For example, here in Atlanta, a major city, not all big hospitals even have it. So if you're really interested, You may need to go elsewhere. It may be worth your while, since some insurance companies do pay for it.

Now, however, we do anticipate that more hospitals and medical centers will be offering this in the future, because doctors say that they're finding other ways to use this technology in cancer: that is to find small cancers that have traveled to other parts of body that would not normally be detected.

And one other point, Lou, it's important to note that CAT scans are still useful even though PET scans can give us more information.

WATERS: Maybe it's just because of this meeting in New Orleans, but I'm getting the impression at least that there are enormous strides being made in the treatment of cancer.

ROWLAND: There are enormous strides. But they're kind of a small step, and a lot of small steps. They're finding new treatments that may help some cancers, they may not help all patients, but they're providing hope for patients who didn't have any before. So we are making progress.

WATERS: Good, Rhonda Rowland, medical correspondent, thank you.

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