Radiation-Chemo Combo Boosts Lung Cancer Outcomes

TUESDAY April 14, 2009 -- New research shows people with advanced lung cancer can survive longer when treated simultaneously with high-dose radiation and chemotherapy.

A study by the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center found that patients with stage 3 non-small cell lung cancer survived, on average, almost 16 months after diagnosis when given high-dose radiation and chemotherapy at the same time. This compares with an average of about seven months for those treated only with radiation and almost 15 months for those receiving radiation before chemotherapy.

The difference becomes more pronounced when looking at five-year survival rates. More than 19 percent of those treated with concurrent radiation and chemotherapy in the study were still alive half a decade after diagnosis, compared with only 7.5 percent of those who had radiation followed by chemotherapy.

"Our study shows chemotherapy helps, and high-dose radiation helps. But it's challenging to administer these treatments at the same time because of the potential toxicity associated with the high-dose radiation," senior study author Dr. Feng-Ming Kong, an associate professor of radiation oncology, said in a school news release.

The study was published in the April 1 issue of the International Journal of Radiation Oncology*Biology*Physics.

More than 215,000 Americans will be diagnosed with tumors in their lungs this year, according to the American Cancer Society. More than 161,000 are expected to die from them during the same period, making it one of the most fatal forms of cancer.

In stage 3 lung cancer, surgery is usually not an option given the tumor size, according to the study. A combination of radiation and chemotherapy or one or the other is often used instead.

The Michigan researchers are now trying to tailor high-dose radiation therapy in patients by using PET scans during treatment to determine tumor size, vulnerability and the person's tolerance for the treatment.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about lung cancer.

Posted: April 2009


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