A new study from the Research on Adverse Drug Events and Reports (RADAR) pharmacovigilance program at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine identified 287 unique cases of hypersensitivity reactions submitted to the FDA's Adverse Event Report System between 1997 and 2007 with 109 (38%) deaths in patients who received Cremophor-based paclitaxel, a solvent-administered taxane chemotherapy.
Adverse event reports generally only represent from 1 to 10% of actual incidence, so the number of hypersensitivity reactions and deaths is likely significantly higher. The severe allergic reactions are believed to be caused by Cremophor, the chemical solvent - a derivative of castor oil - that is used to dissolve some insoluble drugs before they can be injected into the blood stream. Two patients who died from an allergic reaction had early-stage breast cancer, which had been surgically removed, and were being treated with Cremophor-containing paclitaxel to prevent the cancer from coming back. Both of these patients had received medications before the chemotherapy to reduce the risk of hypersensitivity reactions.
In fact, RADAR investigators found that 22% of all fatalities occurred in patients who had received premedication to prevent hypersensitivity reactions, while another 15% of these patients experienced life-threatening respiratory arrest.
Cremophor-containing paclitaxel has been associated with hypersensitivity reactions, with responses ranging from mild skin conditions to more severe effects, including anaphylaxis and cardiac collapse. Current U.S. product labeling for Cremophor containing paclitaxel includes a black-box warning alerting physicians and patients of potential toxicity and recommending the use of corticosteroids and other medications before chemotherapy administration to reduce the risk of hypersensitivity reactions although in the cases cited above this seems to have achieved little.
For the full report.
First published June 2009
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