Caring Currents

A New Gel That Treats Esophageal Cancer: A Welcome Hope

Last updated: Apr 22, 2009

Picture The Cure
Image by Яick Harris used under the creative commons attribution share alike license.

Many of you already know that my dad died of esophageal cancer six years ago. His tumor, by the time it was discovered, was inoperable--and despite chemo and radiation, he died less than four months from his initial diagnosis. His prognosis had been four to six months; we didn't believe it could be possible for our strong, healthy, bike-riding dad to be taken that fast. Yet, in the end, we had even less time with him than the most pessimistic projections.

Let me get to the point: Esophageal cancer is brutal. It's often aggressive, with few treatment options. Even those whose tumors are operable -- a small percentage -- face life with a section of their throat removed, which can cause discomfort or life-long ill effects. And for the majority of patients, who will die within a year of diagnosis, it's a terrible death. So honestly, this is a case where any news of treatments that work is good news.

This may explain why I might seem to be overreacting with excitement to some early news about a biodegradable gel that's being used to treat esophageal cancer. Developed at Rush University, the treatment involves injecting Oncogel, which contains a slow-release form of the chemo drug paclitaxel, into the tumor, where it delivers high-dose chemotherapy with fewer systemic effects.

Oncogel, which is also being studied for potential treatment of brain and ovarian cancer, was developed by BTG, the British company that first developed Interferon and MRI technology. In brain cancer, it's being injected directly into the cavity after the tumor is surgically removed; if you have a loved one about to undergo surgery to remove a brain tumor, this study is something to ask about.)

If someone you love has been diagnosed with esophageal cancer, get them into this clinical trial if you possibly can.

Unlike many, this study is remarkably flexible and is open to patients who are also undergoing systemic chemotherapy and/or concurrent radiation therapy. Patients also are permitted to enroll who've undergone surgical resection to remove their tumors.

And honestly, if someone I loved had been diagnosed with Barrett's esophagus, a condition in which the cells of the esophagus undergo precancerous changes as a result of acid refllux that often precedes esophageal cancer, I would talk to his doctor about whether Oncogel could be an option for him too, either now or in the future.

Just consider: Of the 16,000 people who were diagnosed with esophageal cancer in 2008, 14,000, or 90 percent, died from the disease within a year. Anything that can change these numbers deserves our attention.