Patients with rare cancer get second chance to fight back. The following news release was reprinted from various new sources.

January 27, 2010— When Morty Wagman underwent surgery to remove a gastrointestinal stromal tumour (GIST) in 2008 with his wife Judi by his side, he was faced with a concerning 55 percent chance that his cancer would return. Then, his oncologist told him about Gleevec (imatinib), a treatment that could greatly reduce the risk of his cancer returning, and Wagman felt empowered and hopeful. Today, he and his wife applaud Health Canada for approving Gleevec for patients with this potentially life-threatening condition, at an earlier stage in the disease.

“At first we thought my only option after surgery was do nothing but live in fear of my cancer’s return, and we knew that if it came back, it could be a lot worse,” says Wagman, 71, of Toronto. “I was so relieved to learn about Gleevec following my surgery. For me, it represents new hope; a second chance to keep this disease in check and to go on living my life, spending valuable time with my family.”

GIST, a rare cancer of the gastrointestinal tract, is difficult to diagnose, causing few symptoms in the early stages of the disease. While surgery is the mainstay of treatment for primary GIST, tumours will often recur, months to years after surgery.(i) Recurrent tumours are often more aggressive than primary tumours, and are more likely to be fatal.( ii) In addition to treating inoperable, recurrent or metastatic GIST, Gleevec is now approved by Health Canada as the only post-surgical treatment for patients with primary GIST.

“As experts in this area, we are confident of the preventative benefits of Gleevec for primary GIST, and are now able to treat patients in an appropriate way, at the appropriate time,” says Dr. Shailendra Verma, Medical Oncologist, The Ottawa Hospital Cancer Centre. “Research has shown that 98 percent of patients receiving Gleevec had not experienced a recurrence of the disease one year after surgery. This freedom from relapse has significant meaning to patients and the physicians who care for them.”

While the true incidence of GIST is difficult to determine, a Swedish study has estimated an incidence of primary GIST of 14.5 and a prevalence of 129 individuals per million population. This represents approximately 500 newlydiagnosed Canadians per year.(iii)

“Data recently published in The Lancet show that Gleevec reduces the risk of recurrence of GIST by 89 percent after surgery. Its approval means that many patients can alter the course of this lifethreatening disease at an earlier stage, when it can make a huge difference in their lives,” says David Josephy, president of GIST Sarcoma Life Raft Group Canada. “Given the strength of the data for post-surgical Gleevec, we urge provincial governments to act quickly and provide reimbursement to patients who need access to this important treatment option.”

Erin Kristoff
Author: Erin Kristoff