In September 2006, the American Chemical Society presented a “Heroes of Chemistry” award to three industrial chemists associated with Princeton University and Eli Lilly and Company, for their joint development of Alimta. This new chemotherapy drug has been clinically proven to affect every type of solid tumor on which it’s been tested, including mesothelioma and other forms of asbestos cancer.
Alimta does not cure mesothelioma or lung cancer. However, it does slow the progress of these diseases. It’s the first and only drug approved by the FDA for the treatment of mesothelioma for patients unable to tolerate surgery.
Alimta causes fewer side effects than many other chemotherapy drugs. It’s also easier and quicker to administer. Alimta generally extends a cancer patient’s life, and improves the quality of that life.
What To Expect During Treatment
Many of Alimta’s more harmful side effects can be controlled with vitamin supplements and prescription medications. Before, during, and after each treatment cycle, patients should take between 350 and 1,000 micrograms of folic acid. Patients are also given shots of vitamin B-12 several times during the course of each cycle, as well as prescription drugs called corticosteroids to prevent skin rashes and other complications.
Alimta should not be taken at the same time as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or other drugs used to treat pain, arthritis, and swelling. This combination of drugs can cause serious complications. Patients should clear all medications taken during chemotherapy, including herbal remedies and non-prescription drugs, with their doctors prior to treatment.
Alimta is administered through a vein in the patient’s arm by a procedure called IV infusion. This procedure takes about ten minutes. Many patients, especially those with malignant mesothelioma, receive a second chemotherapy drug half an hour after Alimta, which usually takes several additional hours. Generally, this is an outpatient procedure, so the patients do not have to stay in the hospital overnight.
This treatment procedure is repeated on a 21-day cycle, so patients receive chemotherapy with Alimta once every three weeks. The number of cycles are determined by the patient’s oncologist, who will monitor the size of the tumor and the patient’s condition carefully throughout treatment.
Side effects: Even with co-medications, it’s possible to suffer side effects from Alimta, as with any other chemotherapy drug. Doctors will perform blood tests to monitor for the worst of these, including anemia, and problems with blood and bone marrow. Patients should be alert for:
- Stomach upset, including diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting
- Fever or chills
- Skin rash
- Mouth, throat, or lip sores
If a patient develops any of these side effects, they should be discussed with the medical staff. These side effects could be signs of an allergy to Alimta, or require additional monitoring or treatment.