Food may soften the pain of chemo, UCMC study says

By Jennifer Standish

Researchers at the University of Chicago Medical Center (UCMC) have begun a study to determine whether a costly anti-cancer drug could be prescribed at lower doses if taken with food, which would significantly decrease cost and discomfort for patients.

Currently, patients taking Zytiga, an oral drug used to treat advanced prostate cancer, are told to fast for two hours before taking the pills. The FDA uses this standard when listing directions for all oral anti-cancer drugs because they feel that variation in blood sugar level after eating makes it difficult to determine the right dosage of the drug that the patient should take.

UCMC researchers posit that doctors could safely determine the dosage depending on specific eating habits, and that patients are smart enough to safely regulate when they take their medicine on their own.

“Taking one pill with a meal, rather than four pills on an empty stomach, is much more convenient for patients,” said Russell Szmulewitz the study’s director and a professor at the medical school, in an article on the UCMC’s Web site. “It may improve compliance. It would also reduce the cost.”

Taking the drug while hungry could cause the patient to eat a meal afterwards, leading to an unwanted increase in the blood’s absorption of the drug, Szmulewitz said in an interview. In addition, according to the UCMC article, most of the drug gets flushed away if taken after fasting.

The 75-patient study, which will take place at various trial sites in Chicago such as Northwestern Memorial Hospital, is expected to take approximately a year and a half. Considering the increasing usage of oral anti-cancer drugs, the study came at a perfect time, Szmulewitz explained. If successful, he said, the study could be expanded to other types of cancers.