Chemo Might Give Some Lung Cancer Patients an Edge
Traditional treatment offers small advantage for people without a specific gene mutation, study says
Still, in this group of patients, even in the late stages of the disease, "chemotherapy appears to have a modest advantage," Ramalingam said.
Do the treatments matter if they don't extend lifespan? Yes, said Ramalingam.
"Improvements in outcome for lung cancer have mostly come in incremental steps," said Ramalingam. "An improvement in survival by a few months is still valuable for what was considered an untreatable disease not too long ago."
Because patients weren't randomized to one treatment or the other, the study cannot be considered conclusive.
Also, the analysis doesn't examine side effects. However, Ramalingam said the side effects of the treatments are known "and can be managed with appropriate supportive care measures in both settings."
Traditional chemotherapy has a wide variety of side effects, including nausea, hair loss and other problems. The targeted drugs cause side effects like skin rashes (which can become infections), diarrhea and fatigue.
As for expense, both treatments -- traditional chemotherapy and the alternate "targeted" form of therapy used for the comparison -- cost about the same, Ramalingam said.
Scientists need to continue developing different treatments for non-small cell lung cancer patients based on their genetic makeup, especially those who don't have the "treatable target mutation," Ramalingam said.
Testing for the mutation is becoming more common because treatment can be individualized for patients who have it. Last year, the College of American Pathologists, the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer and the Association for Molecular Pathology recommended that doctors use a test for the mutation to guide treatment for patients with advanced lung cancer.