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June 23, 2005

New study promotes change in treating lung cancer

lung2.gifThis NY Times article reports on a new research study to be published today in the New England Journal of Medicine that is strong evidence that chemotherapy greatly improves the chances of survival for early-stage lung-cancer patients. Lung cancer is by far the leading cause of death from cancer, exceeding annual deaths from colon, breast, pancreatic and prostate cancer combined.

Lung cancer has long been one of most difficult cancers to treat. A high percentage of lung cancer victims are are smokers or former smokers, and because there is no systematic screening process for lung cancer, almost half of the 175,000 annual lung cancer cases are not discovered discovered until the cancer is metastatic (i.e., spreading), which makes survival unlikely. Currently, only about 15% of lung cancer victims survive beyond five years.

The standard treatment for early-stage lung cancer has long been surgery to remove the lobes containing the tumor, but that treatment has resulted in only a 54% survival rate beyond five years. Until this new study, no published research studies had shown a substantial benefit from chemotherapy after surgery for early-stage lung-cancer patients, who represent nearly a third of all cancer cases.

The results of the 10-year trial of 482 patients with early-stage lung cancer show that intravenous chemotherapy drugs improved five-year survival rates to almost 70%. That 15-point improvement will make doctors and patients much more willing to consider follow-on chemotherapy, which sometimes requires hospitalization. "There's never been a lung-cancer trial that showed this benefit of treatment in any stage of disease," commented Katherine M.W. Pisters, M.D., an oncologist at Houston's M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in the Texas Medical Center, who has an op-ed on the study in the current issue of the Journal. In response to the findings, the American College of Clinical Oncology and the American College of Chest Physicians are currently rewriting their official guidelines to physicians to recommend chemotherapy for early-stage lung-cancer patients.

The study was funded by the American and Canadian governments' National Cancer Institutes, and received $1.6 million from GlaxoSmithKline PLC.

Posted by Tom at June 23, 2005 5:56 AM |

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