Treating lung cancer with both chemotherapy and radiation almost triples the number of patients who live at least five years, says a new study.
But researchers cautioned that even with combination therapy’s improvement, the future remains bleak for lung cancer patients, as those who survive even five years are a minority.
“It still isn’t great,” said Dr. Robert O. Dillman, lead author of the study, which will be published today in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
“But when you look at how common this type of cancer is, the difference could amount to an addition of several thousand people still alive.”
The study found that 17 percent of patients with non-small cell lung cancer who got chemotherapy followed by radiation were alive five years later. For patients treated only with radiation, the five-year survival rate was just 6 percent.
Dillman, who is with the Hoag Cancer Center, Newport Beach, Calif., said the research shows that after years of virtually no improvement in survival rates, “we are really starting to make progress in lung cancer.”
One reason for the progress, he said, may be that today’s lung cancer patients are more likely to have quit smoking before they were diagnosed, or to be more willing to quit once they are diagnosed. Kicking the smoking habit, he said, boosts survival chances.
Lung cancer is the nation’s third most common malignancy, just behind breast and prostate cancers. The American Cancer Society says it will be diagnosed in 177,000 Americans this year, and will kill 158,000.
Non-small cell is the most common type of lung cancer, and causes 75 percent to 80 percent of the disease found in smokers, Dillman said.
It a difficult type of cancer to detect early, before it has moved beyond the lungs, and it can involve a variety of cells that have been genetically mutated by tobacco smoke, he said.
In the study, Dillman and his co-authors conducted comparative treatment techniques on 155 patients with late-stage non-small cell lung cancer. Seventy-eight patients received both chemotherapy and radiation therapy, and 77 received only radiation. All of the patients were then reexamined periodically for seven years.
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