Adults who have been diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer that has not responded to previous chemotherapy treatment may receive a medicine called Iressa. This prescription drug works by interfering with how the cancer cells grow and divide. However, studies have shown that people who used Iressa did not extend survival time. In fact, this medicine is no longer manufactured for use in the United States.
Iressa® (gefitinib) is a prescription medication approved for the treatment of non-small cell lung cancer in people who did not improve after treatment with certain other chemotherapy medicines. Specifically, Iressa is used in people who failed treatment with docetaxel (Taxotere®) and "platinum-based" chemotherapy, such as cisplatin (Platinol®), carboplatin (Paraplatin®), or oxaliplatin (Eloxatin®).
Lung cancer occurs when cancerous cells begin to grow in the tissues of the lung. Cancers that begin in the lungs are divided into two major types: non-small cell lung cancer and small cell lung cancer. Non-small cell lung cancer is much more common than small cell lung cancer, and generally grows and spreads more slowly.
Researchers have discovered several causes of lung cancer. The most common causes are related to the use of tobacco, such as cigarette smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke (see Causes of Lung Cancer for more information about these and other possible causes).
After a person is found to have lung cancer, tests are done to see how far the cancer has progressed. This is known as staging (see Staging of Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer to learn about the various tests that may be done in the staging process). The information gathered from staging lung cancer is primarily used to plan the best course of treatment.
In general, higher stages indicate more advanced cancer. For example, in stage I non-small lung cancer, the cancer is confined to the lung, while stage IV describes cancer that has spread to other parts of the body or to another lobe of the lungs (see Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Stages for more detailed information on the stages of non-small cell lung cancer).
Iressa is used to treat lung cancer that has spread to nearby tissue (is locally advanced) or to another place in the body (is metastatic). It is approved as monotherapy, which means it is used alone, not in combination with other chemotherapy medicines.
Iressa has not been shown to help people with non-small cell lung cancer live longer. Because other medications may help people with non-small cell lung cancer live longer, these other medications should be used before Iressa. The use of Iressa is restricted to people who are already taking this drug and are benefiting from it, or people who have benefited from Iressa treatment in the past.
The manufacturer of Iressa stopped making the medication for use in the United States in 2011, and it is no longer available in the United States.