Defying the Odds With Lung Cancer
Radiation to Ease Advanced Lung Cancer May Help Rare Patients
WebMD News Archive
Jan. 23, 2006 -- Lung cancer is the No. 1 cause of cancer deaths, but some
people with seemingly untreatable advanced lung cancer beat the odds.
Palliative radiation -- which eases symptoms but doesn't treat the disease
-- may make a difference, Australian doctors report in Cancer.
They studied 2,337 people who got palliative radiation for advanced cases of
the most common type of lung cancer (non-small cell lung cancer). Such advanced
cases are typically considered "incurable," with "dismal" odds
of survival, the researchers write.
Average survival was less than five months. But there were exceptions.
Twenty-four people -- about one in a hundred -- lived for at least five more
years. For 18, cancer didn't worsen during that time. Nearly a third of those
who survived for five years lived another five years after that.
The researchers included Michael Mac Manus, MD. He works in Melbourne,
Australia, in the radiation oncology department of the Peter MacCallum Cancer
Center, where the patients were diagnosed.
Reasons Not Clear
At the time of diagnosis, the survivors had had better function and their
cancer was less likely to have spread beyond the lungs.
The findings might explain some cases of survival that get chalked up to
unusual treatments or faith healings, the researchers note. They admit they
can't explain the findings based on the available data.
Perhaps the survivors' tumors were particularly responsive to radiation or
slower to spread, though that's not certain, write Mac Manus and
They call for more studies and encourage radiation oncologists to "be
aware of the potential for long-term survival" and keep palliative
radiation doses to tolerable levels.