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Promising New Cancer Treatment

The newest promising cancer treatment is called combretastatin, an experimental cancer drug derived from the South African willow bush.

It is so sensitive to light, Gayle Gordon has to take her treatments in the dark, reports CBS News Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Kaledin

Gordon has been on the drug for exactly one year. She is back at work. Her colon cancer that defied surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation is in remission.

"In the last five years I have had four surgeries to remove growths, and since I've been on combretastatin I have not had any new growth," Gordon says.

In addition to Gordon's promising story, there is mounting evidence that combretastatin has tumor-fighting potential.

In a University of Pennsylvania trial involving 27 patients combretastatin stopped tumor growth in ten patients -- in one patient the tumors actually got smaller.

Tumors need blood to grow and spread. Combretastatin works by targeting that blood supply and blocking it, starving the tumor and potentially causing it to shrink.

Dr. James Stevenson, who is overseeing the Pennsylvania trial, says MRI images prove the drug is working.

"In some of these patients we did see a rather dramatic reduction in blood flow to tumors, mostly at the center of the tumors that were studied," Stevenson says.

Though the results are all preliminary and the numbers of success stories still small, doctors are investing a lot of hope in drugs like combretastatin. They enable people like Gayle Gordon to live life fully because unlike toxic chemotherapy, they target only tumors.

"Except for the time that I'm having treatment, I feel absolutely wonderful," she says. "I can do anything."

"In theory, you may have an agent which is active against cancer but which has little or no side effects -- which would be the ideal type of cancer drug," Stevenson says.

For now though, the ideal type of cancer drug is still only an experiment -- but one whose potential continues to grow.

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