May 18, 2006
Program Launched to Treat Skin Problems from Anticancer Drugs
CHICAGO—Northwestern University has launched the nation’s first program to treat skin conditions resulting from anticancer drugs.
The Cancer Skin Care (Cancer Study of Chemotherapy-Induced Cutaneous Adverse Reactions) Program was established to develop research and clinical management strategies for skin conditions in cancer patients or those conditions that arise as a result of anticancer therapies. Drugs against cancer can frequently lead to side effects in the skin, which may lead to interruption of lifesaving anticancer treatments.
One of the first successful efforts of the Cancer Skin Care Program is a clinic formed by a group of specialists addressing skin and eye effects of newer anticancer drugs, described in the May issue of the Journal of Supportive Oncology.
The study addresses side effects of targeted therapies, a new group of drugs that directly block proteins involved in cancer. Targeted therapies include the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) and other kinase inhibitors, which have been used successfully to treat head and neck, lung, colorectal, kidney, and pancreatic cancers.
Although these drugs do not have the diffuse and bone marrow side effects of conventional chemotherapy, 60 percent of patients will develop facial acne-like rashes, swelling, and dry, irritated skin. Many of these patients also experience abnormal eyelash growth, dry eye, and other eye disorders that may cause significant discomfort and blurred vision.
Further complicating the dramatic skin reactions is the psychological and physical distress to the patient, said Mario E. Lacouture, MD, assistant professor of dermatology, at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, who heads the Cancer Skin Care Program and is lead author on the study. Dr. Lacouture is a dermatologist at the Northwestern Medical Faculty Foundation and Northwestern Memorial Hospital and a researcher at The Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University.
“Many patients who experience chemotherapy-induced skin reactions don’t want to leave their homes, and some would rather stop their chemotherapy than live with the discomfort and anxiety. Improving their quality of life is a paramount concern,” Dr. Lacouture said.
The Cancer Skin Care Program includes dermatologists, cancer specialists, ophthalmologists, and basic scientists from the Feinberg School and Cancer Center.
The multidisciplinary clinic focuses on early diagnosis and treatment of reactions to targeted anticancer drugs and patient education to ensure compliance with chemotherapy regimens and minimize the need for drug dose decrease, interruption, or discontinuation.
The enhanced communication between the Cancer Skin Care Program’s specialists has created new opportunities for patient care, education, and research, Dr. Lacouture said.
Another Cancer Skin Care Program specialist (and co-author on the article) is Surendra Basti, MD, associate professor of ophthalmology at the Feinberg School, who focuses on eye complications to anticancer therapies.
The Cancer Skin Care Program is supported by a Zell Scholarship awarded to Dr. Lacouture.
For information on the Cancer Skin Care Program, call 312/695-8106.