Source: MD Becker Partners, Life Science Digest; American Cancer Society

An estimated 1.1 million patients were treated with radiation in 2009, representing an increase of 15% from 2007 according to a market research study published by IMV Medical Information Division.

The clinical application of radiation therapy in oncology (using high-energy radiation to shrink tumors and kill cancer cells) dates back to the early 1900s when radium was used to successfully treat a pharyngeal carcinoma in Vienna.  By the 1930s, fractionated X-rays were used to cure a group of patients with inoperable cancer of the larynx. Today, radiation therapy remains a cornerstone of cancer treatment and is often used in combination with surgery and chemotherapy.

Radiation can be delivered to a cancer patient using several techniques. These include using a machine outside of the body (external-beam radiation therapy), placing radioactive material in the vicinity of cancer cells (internal radiation therapy, or brachytherapy), and systemic radiation therapy using injected substances (radiopharmaceuticals) that travel in the blood to seek and destroy cancer cells.

Despite numerous medical and scientific advances following its clinical introduction more than a century ago, radiation therapy is an important and growing treatment option for breast, prostate, lung and other cancers. A recent article in the Journal Cancer suggests that 52% of all cancer patients should receive radiation.  The American Cancer Society expecting approximately 1,596,670 new cancer cases to be diagnosed in 2011.

However, most types of radiation do not specifically attack cancer cells and cause injury to normal tissues surrounding the tumor. The goal of radiation therapy is to maximize the dose delivered to tumor cells while minimizing exposure to normal, healthy cells. For Prostate Cancer patients, complications of radiation include:  bleeding; irritation and pain; urinary frequency; urgency; and, incontinence.  Radiation therapy directed to the chest is commonly employed to treat lung, esophageal, breast and lymphoma cancers. However, lung inflammation caused by radiation therapy, called radiation pneumonitis, is the most common complication.

Given the prominent role of radiation therapy in cancer treatment, the development of novel agents that protect normal tissue against the effects of ionizing radiation represents a large market opportunity and unmet medical need.

Post: Gayle R. Lewis, Esquire