Many Not Getting Life-Prolonging Therapy

Lung cancer patients who receive radiation live longer

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Radiation treatment is effective at shrinking tumors and killing cancer cells. While this type of treatment can extend lives, many lung cancer patients are not receiving the therapy. But why?

Patients with early stage non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) who receive radiation therapy alone live longer than those who do not, according to an extensive new study.

Surgery is a very effective means of treatment for many patients with stage I NSCLC. Some patients, however, are not good candidates for surgery.

These patients may have other health issues that would make surgery risky.

For these cancer patients, radiation therapy may be an effective option. Because of technological advances, doctors can deliver high-dose radiation treatment that is targeted, non-invasive and painless.

"Ask your oncologist about radiation therapy."

Nirav Kapadia, MD, a chief resident in the department of radiation oncology at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor, led the study examining data on 53,764 patients with stage I NSCLC. The patient data came from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results database, a source for cancer statistics from the National Cancer Institute.

“Stage I NSCLC patients who receive radiation therapy alone are surviving longer than they used to,” said Dr. Kapadia.

“However, at least 16 percent of patients are still not getting the care they need—care that could save their lives. We must identify the barriers to treatment so every patient has hope for a cancer cure.”

Investigators looked at groups of patients from two eras— 27,469 from 1999-2003 and 26,195 from 2004-2008. They noted the overall survival rate increased by 12 months from the early group to the later with patient survival rising from 44 months to 56 months.

The lift in median lifespan may be due to the increase in the number of surgeries, from 64 percent to 70 percent.

The number of patients who received radiation alone stayed basically the same, moving from 14 percent to 13 percent in the later group.

Those who received radiation alone had a median survival of 21 months, compared to 16 months for those who did not receive radiation.

Dr. Kapadia and his colleagues did not report how long patients treated with surgery lived because their median survival has not yet been reached.

Interestingly, the proportion of patients receiving no radiation or surgery dropped from 20 percent to 16 percent when comparing the earlier set of patients to the later.

The study was presented in September at the 2012 Chicago Multidisciplinary Symposium in Thoracic Oncology.

This symposium is sponsored by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), the American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO), the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer (IASLC) and The University of Chicago.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
October 14, 2012
Last Updated:
October 15, 2012