Testing New Lung Cancer Treatments
Jan. 9, 2002 -- For both men and women, lung cancer ranks No. 1 in cancer-related deaths. In fact, the number of new cases continues to rise, especially among women. Most often, smoking is the underlying cause.
It can be a devastating illness, but medical research continues to raise hope that effective treatments will be developed to help more people in the future.
Two studies in the Jan. 10 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine focus on lung cancer treatment. The first, from Japan, shows promising results for people living with a specific type of lung cancer called "small-cell" lung cancer. One in four or five people with this disease have this form of lung cancer. It's particularly aggressive and difficult to treat.
But Kazumasa Noda, MD, and colleagues have found a way to significantly improve survival in people with this type of lung cancer.
Current treatment involves the use of multiple chemotherapy drugs, such as cisplatin and etoposide. These two drugs in combination, however, still leave a lot of room for improvement.
So the researchers studied the treatment results of 154 people with this form of the disease who received either the common chemotherapy combination or one made up of cisplatin plus a relatively new drug called Camptosar, or irinotecan. It's a drug that has shown a lot of promise in the treatment of lung cancer.
In this study, the new combination increased survival significantly. Average survival jumped from 9.4 months to 12.8 months. But even more impressive were the results people had a bit further down the road after treatment, says Desmond N. Carney, MD, PhD, who wrote an editorial accompanying the studies.
Two years after treatment, nearly 20% of people who received the new combination were still alive, compared to only 5.2% who received the standard treatment. Carney writes that more confirmation is needed but adds that these results seem to indicate an advance in treatment of small-cell lung cancer.
The study was actually stopped early when the researchers realized those who received the new combination of drugs were doing better than those who got the standard treatment.
In the second study, researchers from the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics in Madison looked at more than 1,100 people with the most common type of lung cancer, called non-small-cell lung cancer. This makes up all types of lung cancer other than small cell.
The researchers, led by Joan H. Schiller, MD, compared four different chemotherapy treatments to see if any one was better than the others. However, they did not find any significant advantage in one treatment over another.
Average survival was eight months overall. After one year, 33% were still alive, with 11% alive two years after treatment.
Carney writes that new chemotherapy combinations are not likely to make substantial improvements in survival for any type of lung cancer. He is with the Mater Misericordiae Hospital in Dublin, Ireland.
He adds that we all should be concerned with preventing lung cancer and detecting it early when it does develop. Also, he says there is hope that special treatments called "specific biologic targets" will one day be able to help more people to live longer.