Ray (M578),53-year-old, was diagnosed with kidney cancer. He underwent a radical nephrectomy. About seven years later, the cancer spread to his lungs. Ray was prescribed Sutent (sunitinib) for his problem and was started on this oral drug in late August 2007 at a dose of 50 mg daily for 4 weeks (to be recycled every 6 weeks).
Within days after taking Sutent, Ray developed severe side effects which he found intolerable. He had diarrhea, his skin turned yellow, his face swelled, he had painful ulceration of his mouth and throat, blunting of taste sensation, hypertension and worse of all severe hand-foot syndrome. His skin peeled off and he could not walk due to severe pains.
The oncologist told him: You suffered 7 side effects only. According to the drug company’s information, there are 21 side effects. And you “belum apa-apa” (implying that you are not dead yet!). So it is okay.
Ray was asked to continue taking Sutent but at a reduced dosage – 37.5 mg or 3 tablets her day instead of 50 mg or 4 tablets per day). However, even at a reduced dosage Ray still suffered and subsequently Ray took only 2 tablets (25 mg) per day. By January 2008, Ray totally stopped taking Sutent because of the intolerable side effects. Even after stopping Sutent, the problems persisted so much so that Ray was unable to stand up and walk. Ray told the oncologist: I am stopping Sutent, I might die because of the drug and not because of the cancer.
The approval of Sutent by the FDA – USA, was on the basis that Sutent shrank tumors in 26% to 37% of patients. Studies have not yet shown that Sutent improves survival, let alone cure cancer.
Patients ought to be informed or know that the use of such drug like Sutent (which is referred to as inhibitor of tumour angionenesis, anti-angiogenic or VEGF-targeted therapy drug) did shrink tumours in clinical studies. These drugs often prolong survival of cancer patients by only months, without offering enduring cure. But one most important concern is that in studies with mice, these VEGF-targeted drugs initially inhibited primary tumour growth, but later the tumours showed an unexpected surge in growth and became more invasive and spread widely to other parts of the body.