Chemotherapy combined with etanercept, a drug typically used to treat rheumatoid arthritis may help reduce the fatigue and muscle-wasting that often afflicts cancer patients, according to research published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

In the study, 12 patients with a variety of advanced solid malignancies that were resistant to conventional treatment, or for which no effective treatment existed, were randomly assigned to two groups — one that received the chemotherapy treatment docetaxel and one that received docetaxel and etanercept. Subsequently, an additional 12 patients who were later added to the study received higher doses of docetaxel combined with etanercept.

Patients were evaluated and answered weekly questionnaires about their perceived fatigue and weakness. Although only a limited group of patients received docetaxel without etanercept, the questionnaires showed that those patients experienced more fatigue than those who received etanercept.

The addition of etanercept was safe and had no impact on the concentration of the chemotherapy drugs in the body, the study found. "This shows promise in helping reduce fatigue in cancer patients while increasing their ability to tolerate higher doses of chemotherapy on a more frequent basis," said Miguel Villalona-Calero, one of the study's authors and a researcher at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center.