"Two years ago, we didn't recommend the therapy because we had just preliminary data that it might be helpful, but not enough information to make it a generally accepted recommendation," says James Rigas, MD, director of the Comprehensive Thoracic Oncology Program at the Norris Cotton Cancer Center in Lebanon, N.H.
But in 2004 two studies showed big improvements in survival for patients who got chemotherapy over those who didn't. Here were the conclusive data that doctors had been hoping for.
How good was the news? One study by the National Cancer Institute of Canada showed that, of those who received a two-drug chemo combination, 15% more lived five years or more after their surgery, while a U.S. study showed a 12% increase in survival rates.
The chemotherapy drugs used in these studies are not new, yet with these study results doctors now have better knowledge of how to work with what's available, meaning many people may live longer without a relapse or spread of their cancer.
"I think we're going to be seeing a lot more trials to try to improve upon the fact that we know treatment helps," Rigas tells WebMD.
Targeted Treatment for Lung Cancer
Nearly 60% of all people with lung cancer die within a year of their diagnosis and an estimated 164,000 Americans -- most of them smokers or ex-smokers -- are diagnosed each year.
Fortunately, an important development in treating advanced lung cancer was announced last year.
In a large study, people taking a drug called Avastin, together with chemotherapy, lived an average of two months longer than those taking chemo alone -- a big improvement for people with a disease that can kill so quickly.
Avastin is a "targeted" treatment, meaning it more specifically targets cancer cells over normal cells. It works by disrupting the cancer cells' ability to form new blood vessels, which a tumor needs to grow.