Radiation therapy cures lung cancer

According to the Global Lung Cancer Coalition, each year ten million people are diagnosed with lung cancer, and half of all patients die within a year of diagnosis.

Lung cancer is globally by far the biggest cancer killer. The majority of cases are linked in some way to smoking.

But according to a new study, as many as one in a hundred patients with apparently incurable non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) survive five or more years after being given relatively small doses of radiation therapy (RT) meant to ease symptoms and even more exciting, 18 other patients were apparently cured.

Dr. Michael Mac Manus, a radiation oncologist at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Center in Melbourne, Australia, and colleagues, followed 2,337 apparently incurable lung cancer patients who had received palliative doses of radiation.

The researchers say that 1.1 percent of the 2,337 patients lived five or more years after treatment which is considered remission.

NSCLC, is the most common type of lung cancer and has an average five-year survival rate of only 40 percent.

The five-year survival rate in advanced disease is only about 15 percent.

Patients diagnosed with NSCLC that is too advanced to be cured can be given palliative therapies to ease pain and discomfort, including radiation.

But now that palliative radiation has been found to be a cure for some lung cancer patients.

Patients who are diagnosed with disease that is too advanced for curative treatment remain eligible for palliative therapies intended to provide symptom relief, including comparatively low doses of localized RT.

Physicians have previously seen that some patients receiving palliative RT long outlive their estimated survival and a few report even cures.

The researchers say in conclusion that close to 1 percent of patients with NSCLC have prolonged survival with doses of palliative RT that would not normally be considered sufficient for long term disease control.

They hope that future studies will focus on identifying patient characteristics because early identification could potentially, profoundly influence the treatment.

The study is published in the March 1, 2006 issue of the journal Cancer.

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