Tuesday, July 13, 2010

July 13, 2010 – Bendamustine Rising

Thanks to Betsy DeParry of the Patients- Against-Lymphoma group on Facebook, for posting excerpts from an article about Bendamustine in the treatment of indolent NHL.

Bendamustine (trade names Treanda, Ribomustin) is a chemotherapy agent that’s been around for decades. It was developed in East Germany during the Cold War, which is perhaps why it was slow to catch on in the U.S. and Western Europe. It’s receiving a lot of attention these days as a treatment option for NHL, either in conjunction with Rituxan or on its own.

The full article is found in the issue of the American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy (2010; 67: 713-723). Authors are Anjana Elefante, Pharm.D., B.Sc.Phm., Clinical Pharmacist, Department of Pharmacy; and Myron S. Czuczman, M.D., Chief, Lymphoma/Myeloma Service, Department of Medicine, Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Buffalo, NY.

Here are some excerpts from Betsy’s excerpts:

“Bendamustine is an alkylating agent that has a unique, multifaceted mechanism of action. Compared with other alkylators, bendamustine produces more-extensive and long-lasting DNA damage. Bendamustine also inhibits cell-cycle checkpoints, leading to mitotic catastrophe and apoptosis.”

Sounds pretty dire, eh? Well, the “DNA damage... mitotic catastrophe and apoptosis” is actually referring to cancer cells, so that’s not such a bad thing.

“Bendamustine is approved for the treatment of CLL and for indolent B-cell NHL that has progressed during or within 6 months of treatment with rituximab or a rituximab-based regimen. In Phase II and III trials in patients with indolent NHL and CLL, bendamustine has demonstrated response rates of 67–84% as a single agent and median durations of response of 7–21 months. Additional clinical trials are examining bendamustine as a single agent and in combination therapy for the treatment of hematologic malignancies and solid tumors. Adverse events associated with bendamustine are typically mild to moderate and can usually be managed with supportive care.”

Sounds pretty encouraging.

“NHL is the most common hematologic cancer and the sixth most common cancer in the United States, with an estimated 65,980 new cases and 19,500 deaths occurring in 2009. The histological subtypes of NHL fall into two major classes: indolent (slow growing) and aggressive (fast growing). Lymphomas with indolent histologies include B-cell follicular lymphoma, marginal zone lymphoma, small lymphocytic lymphoma, and cutaneous T-cell lymphoma. Lymphomas with aggressive histologies include diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, lymphoblastic lymphoma, and Burkitt lymphoma. Mantle cell lymphoma is classified as an aggressive lymphoma but possesses characteristics of both indolent and aggressive disease.

Treatment of indolent NHL depends on the histology and stage of the disease. Because indolent NHL is often asymptomatic in early stages, it is generally advanced (stage III or IV) at the time of detection. Treatment for indolent NHL typically involves a combination of chemotherapy and immunotherapy, such as cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin, vincristine, and prednisone (CHOP) plus rituximab. Alternatively, other chemotherapy regimens may be used in combination with rituximab, including cyclophosphamide, vincristine, and prednisone and fludarabine-based regimens. Radiation and bone marrow or stem cell transplantation are treatment options in selected patients.

Indolent NHL is generally incurable. Patients typically follow a course of remission and relapse requiring multiple rounds of therapy with rituximab, chemotherapy, or both. Eventually, most patients become refractory to chemotherapeutic agents, rituximab, or both.[20] Therefore, new treatments are needed to prolong the duration of remission and overall survival for patients with relapsed and refractory indolent NHL.

Bendamustine is useful in that it shows little cross-reactivity with common first-line indolent NHL therapies. It is effective in patients refractory to rituximab, chemotherapy, or both...”

What about side effects?

“Bendamustine is generally well tolerated. The most common serious (grade 3 or 4) adverse events are hematologic in nature. Gastrointestinal events are also commonly observed but are usually mild to moderate in severity. Adverse events can often be managed with supportive therapies or dosage modifications.”

Translation: like other chemotherapy agents, it can throw your blood counts out of whack and it can make you vomit. Yet, they say these side effects can be pretty much kept under control with other drugs.

In the oncologist’s lexicon, “well tolerated” doesn’t mean you feel good. It means the doctors don’t usually have to cancel the chemotherapy because it’s making you so sick you can’t stand it.

In any event, this is another bit of encouraging news for me, for whenever it should happen that “watch and wait” ends and “go and do something” begins.

It’s good to have more than one arrow in the quiver, to be sure.

Monday, July 05, 2010


This week I'm attending the Presbyterian Church's General Assembly in Minneapolis. I'm blogging about it on my Monnmouth Presbytery Clerks' Corner blog.

Yesterday was the opening worship service, with several thousand people in attendance at the Minneapolis Convention Center. At one point in the service, it was announced that the Necrology Report would be presented, in the form of a list of names projected on the large screens over our heads.

"Necrology" is an odd word, but to those who frequent Presbyterian official meetings above the local level, it means a report of recent deaths. The General Assembly's Necrology Report is a list of ministers who have died during the previous two years, since the Assembly last met.

Flashing the names up on the screen was a creative way of presenting this information, without having to go through the tedious exercise of reading the list aloud. As we listened to some wonderful music, I scanned the names as each page was put up there, to see if there were any I recognized - any honored members of the older generation.

Bam! There was a name I recognized, but not from the older generation. It was Karen, a seminary classmate with whom I had worked side-by-side for a couple of years after we graduated, when we were both associate pastors. She died in a freakish accident: a burst blood clot in her lung, while she was on a high-altitude hiking trip. By the time the mountain-rescue team got her back down the mountain, it was too late.

Then there was Carter's name. I had never met her in person, but she and I were on the writing team for The Immediate Word, an internet sermon resource for preachers. Every week, we would speak via conference call, as the team planned the next installment. She had died suddenly of a massive heart attack.

In my mid-50s, I'm at the stage of life when I can expect to hear about this sort of thing more frequently - members of my generation who are dying.

I was very much aware of the fact that, with my cancer experience, I could very well have been numbered in that company. What would others have thought as they saw my name flashed on the screen, I wondered?

We cancer survivors have to deal with ever-present reminders of our mortality. To us, they take on a meaning that I suspect is very different than those who have always enjoyed good health.