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Chemotherapy helps patients with lung cancer live longer

24 March 2010

Worldwide, an extra 10,000 patients with non-small cell lung cancer could be alive after 5 years with the use of chemotherapy according to research led by the Medical Research Council Clinical Trials Unit, London and Institut Gustave Roussy, Paris.

Non-small cell lung cancer is the most common type of lung cancer. If the tumour is not too large and has not spread to other parts of the body, it is usually removed by surgery, along with all or part or of the affected lung. Patients with slightly more advanced tumours may also be given radiotherapy after surgery. However, it was not clear whether there were any benefits of adding chemotherapy.

Results of two meta-analyses, published today in the Lancet, included data from more than 11,000 patients, from 33 trials worldwide. These trials represent most of those conducted in the last few decades to assess the effect of adjuvant chemotherapy on non-small cell lung cancer. This was only possible through an international collaborative effort by leading researchers in lung cancer, who formed the NSCLC Meta-analyses Collaborative Group.

The results showed that chemotherapy given after surgery or given after surgery and radiotherapy does help patients live longer. At 5 years, 64% of patients who had chemotherapy after surgery were alive compared to 60% who received surgery alone. For patients who were given chemotherapy after surgery and radiotherapy, 33% were alive at 5 years, compared to 29% of those who just had surgery and radiotherapy. When patients received chemotherapy, there was also less chance of the cancer coming back or spreading to other parts of the body.

The benefits of chemotherapy appeared similar with the different drugs, no matter how old the patients were, whether they were men or women or how fit they were.