Surgery for the treatment of lung cancer in patients 80 years and older is a safe and effective treatment approach for those who are eligible. These results were recently presented at the American Association for Cancer Research 2008 Annual Meeting.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the world. Non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) accounts for approximately 75% of all cases of lung cancer in the United States. “Non–small cell” refers to the type of cell within the lung where the cancer originated. If detected and treated early, NSCLC has a high cure rate. Specifically, surgical removal of the cancer provides the best cure rates. Not all patients, however, are eligible for surgery, either due to the anatomical location of the cancer or the patient’s ability to tolerate the surgery and recovery.

Many patients diagnosed with NSCLC are elderly. Unfortunately, many of these individuals have other existing medical conditions (co-morbidities) or are considered frail and unable to tolerate aggressive therapies. Therefore, elderly patients with NSCLC are often treated with less aggressive forms of therapy that ultimately yield lower rates of survival.

Researchers from the Hoag Cancer Center in California recently conducted a study to evaluate the outcomes associated with surgery for NSCLC among elderly patients. This study included data from 1,293 patients from the medical center’s database who were diagnosed with NSCLC between 2000 and 2006. Of these patients, 17.2% were at last 80 years of age. Of these, 38.5% underwent surgery for their cancer.

  • Survival at five years was 62% for patients older than 80 years of age; 53% for those aged 70 to 79 years; 63% for those aged 50 to 69 years; and 79% among those younger than 50 years of age.
  • Among the oldest patients, none died from lung cancer.

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The researchers concluded that the elderly patients with NSCLC can do well with surgery for their cancer and add that “surgery should not be precluded solely based on the patient’s age.”

Patients with NSCLC may wish to speak with their physician regarding their individual risks and benefits of treatment with surgery.

Reference: Dillman R, et al. Proceedings from the American Association for Cancer Research 2008 Annual Meeting: Abstract 5537. Presented April 16, 2008.

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