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Patients with early-stage non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) who were medically unable to undergo surgery to remove their cancer had a 55.8% overall survival at three years following stereotactic body radiation therapy. These findings were recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.[1]

Lung cancer is a major cause of death worldwide, with over one million deaths per year. Non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is the most common type of lung cancer. Early-stage NSCLC is most often treated with surgical resection with or without the addition of radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy. In some cases, patients may not be able to undergo surgery to remove their cancer due to underlying conditions such as emphysema or heart disease. Treatment of early-stage NSCLC patients who are unable to undergo surgery may include radiation therapy or observation. Strategies to improve treatment for this group of patients include stereotatic body radiation therapy.

Stereotactic radiation therapy involves the very precise delivery of a large dose of radiation to a tumor while sparing normal tissue. This approach is used to treat brain tumors and is also being explored in the treatment of other cancers.

In this study researchers evaluated the safety and efficacy of stereotactic body radiation therapy in 55 patients with early-stage NSCLC who were not eligible for surgical resection of their cancer due to medical reasons. At three years overall survival was 55.8%, disease-free survival was 48.3%, and 22.1% of patients experienced disseminated recurrence. The median overall survival was 48.1 months. Grade 3 and 4 side effects of treatment were reported in seven and two patients, respectively. There were no patient deaths related to treatment with stereotactic body radiation therapy.

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Additional studies are being planned to further define how this promising radiation technique may benefit patients who are unable to undergo surgery for early-stage NSCLC.


[1] Timmerman R, Paulus R, Galvin J, et al. Stereotactic body radiation therapy for inoperable early stage lung cancer. JAMA. 2010;303(11):1070-1076.

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