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Pitt Researchers Present Latest Cancer Findings at American Society of Clinical Oncology Meeting

University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences Media Relations


CHICAGO, IL., May 31 to June 4, 2013 – Depression in patients with advanced cancer, chemotherapy maintenance regimens in lung cancer and the progression of melanoma were among the topics presented by researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI), partner with the UPMC CancerCenter, at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) this year.

The meeting, based on the theme “Building Bridges to Conquer Cancer,” was expected to draw approximately 30,000 cancer specialists from around the world when it convened in Chicago this week.

Pitt researchers Weijing Sun, M.D., professor, Pitt School of Medicine, and director, GI Cancers Section of Hematology-Oncology, and Priya Rastogi, M.D., associate professor of medicine, each served on panels to discuss new findings. Dr. Sun spoke about bevacizumab in colorectal cancer and early response as an indicator of overall survival, while Dr. Rastogi discussed the latest findings in the HER2-positive neoadjuvant trials in breast cancer.

Other highlights included the following oral presentations:

Drug Therapies for Metastatic Melanoma

John Kirkwood, M.D., director of UPMC CancerCenter’s melanoma program, and his colleagues were part of a multicenter, randomized phase II trial of GM-CSF plus ipilimumab versus Ipi alone in metastatic melanoma. The findings of the study were presented at an oral presentation at ASCO.

Depression Linked to Cancer Survival

Jennifer Steel, Ph.D., associate professor of surgery and psychiatry, and director of Pitt’s Center for Excellence in Behavioral Medicine, presented findings of a study examining the mechanisms associated with the link between depression and increased risk of mortality in patients with advanced cancer. In the study of 474 patients with advanced cancer, researchers found 47 percent of patients reporting depressive symptoms in the clinical range, and the course of the depression were linked to their survival after adjusting for demographic and disease-specific factors. The biological mechanisms believed to link depression and mortality included pro-inflammatory cytokines, which were elevated in those patients with clinical levels of depression. Depressive symptoms both increased and decreased in relationship to the levels of the cytokines over time. Preliminary evidence also suggested that depression was linked to an increase of a biomarker of inflammation near the tumor in a small sample of patients who underwent surgery. These biomarkers of inflammation in the serum and tumor microenvironment have been shown to be associated with tumor growth and development of metastases. Future research by this team will focus on whether treatment of depression will reduce tumor-associated inflammation and slow disease progression using an innovative, collaborative-care intervention.

Lung Cancer Treatments Compared

Mark Socinski, M.D., presented findings of a team led by UPCI researchers who found in a phase III study of more than 900 patients with late-stage nonsquamous, non-small cell lung cancer that a regimen of pemetrexed, carboplatin and bevacizumab followed by maintenance pemetrexed and bevacizumab (Pem arm) did not improve overall survival rates compared with a regimen of paclitaxel, carboplatin and bevacizumab followed by maintenance bevacizumab (Pac arm). Progression-free survival time, meaning the length of time that the disease did not get worse, was generally longer in the Pem arm, particularly for patients 70 and younger.