Among elderly patients with early but inoperable lung cancer, treatment with radiation therapy alone appears to be effective and well-tolerated. These results were published in the journal Lung Cancer.

Lung cancer remains the leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is the most common type of lung cancer, accounting for 75%-80% of all lung cancers.

Stage I NSCLC is located in only one lung and has not spread to the adjacent lymph nodes or outside the chest. Stage II NSCLC is located in one lung and may involve lymph nodes on the same side of the chest, but not lymph nodes in the mediastinum (the area between the lungs).

Although surgery is the mainstay of treatment for early lung cancer, some patients with lung cancer are not able to undergo the surgery. Advanced age and other medical conditions, such as heart disease and diminished lung capacity, make it more difficult for these patients to withstand surgery. For these patients, staging of their cancer may be relatively precise using newer scanning techniques, including positron emission tomography (PET). They are often offered radiation therapy as treatment for their cancer.

To further describe the safety and effectiveness of treatment with radiation therapy alone, researchers in Spain reviewed the records of 33 patients with inoperable but early stage (stage I or stage II) NSCLC. The patients had been treated with radiation therapy alone between 1995 and 1999. All the patients were male, and the median patient age was 75 years (age ranged from 71 to 97 years). Eleven of the patients (33%) were 80 or older. Seventy-three percent of the patients had stage I cancer and 27% had stage II cancer.

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  • Radiation therapy reduced detectable cancer in 70% of subjects.
  • Half the patients survived for at least three years.
  • One patient died of acute radiation therapy-induced lung toxicity, and two other patients developed lung problems later.

The researchers concluded that radiation therapy alone was effective and well-tolerated in elderly patients with inoperable early-stage NSCLC.

Reference: San José S, Arnaiz MD, Lucas A et al. Radiation Therapy Alone in Elderly with Early Stage Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer. Lung Cancer. 2006;52:149-154.

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