WASHINGTON - Cancer patients will soon be able to use a medication patch to ease the debilitating nausea that often accompanies chemotherapy.
The Food and Drug Administration said Monday it has approved the first anti-nausea patch for chemotherapy patients, intended to provide relief for up to five days. The patch, called Sancuso, is worn on the arm and delivers a widely used anti-nausea medicine, known as granisetron, through the skin. It is expected to be available by the end of the year.
"It will be another way that we can address nausea and vomiting, coming from a route that we haven't had before," said nurse practitioner Barbara Rogers, who specializes in cancer treatment. "The patch is a nice option."
Rogers, who works at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, is also a consultant to ProStrakan, the Scottish company that developed the patch.
About a million people undergo chemotherapy every year and as many as 70 percent develop nausea. If the problem occurs at the hospital, it can be dealt with immediately. But many patients suffer from nausea after being sent home. Anti-nausea pills are available, but some cancer patients have difficulty swallowing.
"The main benefit will be for people who have difficulty taking oral medications," Rogers said. But other patients could also benefit, she added, since a single patch is designed to maintain a steady level of the anti-nausea medicine in the body for several days. These days, medical professionals treating cancer patients are trying to eliminate nausea as a side effect of chemotherapy, believing that will help the patients maintain physical strength and emotional energy.
Melvin Hren, 59, a retired elementary school teacher from New Philadelphia, Ohio, said the patch helped him battle a rare cancer of the thymus gland, now in remission.
"I couldn't leave the house for very much because of the fact that I was so sick," Hren said. "As a result of the patch, I was able to leave the house and be with the family. I was able to enjoy life a little bit. Without it, life would have been a lot more difficult."
Hren took part in a clinical trial in which the patch was shown to be just as effective as anti-nausea pills. A spokeswoman for the company said no information on pricing is available.
Sancuso's main side effect is constipation. In some cases the drug can mask a bowel obstruction, which is a dangerous condition requiring prompt treatment.