Researchers from University of Michigan have revealed that giving high doses of radiation along with chemotherapy can significantly improve survival in patients with stage III lung cancer.
The standard treatment for this stage of lung cancer - when the tumour is likely too large to be removed through surgery - involves a combination of radiation therapy with chemotherapy.
However, the new study suggests that giving chemotherapy at the same time as the radiation, and increasing the doses over the time can improve survival.
"When patients are diagnosed with stage III lung cancer, surgery is often not an option, and survival rates are typically quite low," said says senior study author Dr Feng-Ming Kong, associate professor of radiation oncology at the U-M Medical School and chief of radiation oncology at the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System.
"Finding new ways to improve survival, even in small increments, is crucial," Kong added.
During the study, the researchers looked at 237 patients who had been treated for stage III non-small cell lung cancer.
The researchers compared survival among patients treated with radiation alone, with radiation followed by chemotherapy, and with radiation and chemotherapy given at the same time.
Another group of patients received increased radiation doses throughout the course of the treatment.
They found that patients treated with radiation alone had the worst overall survival rates, living only an average 7.4 months after diagnosis.
Adding chemotherapy increased survival to 14.9 months when it was administered after completing radiation and 15.8 months when administered at the same time as radiation.
After five years, 19.4 percent of the patients receiving concurrent chemotherapy were still alive, compared to only 7.5 percent of patients receiving sequential chemotherapy.
"Our study shows chemotherapy helps, and high dose radiation helps. But it's challenging to administer these treatments at the same time because of the potential toxicity associated with the high dose radiation," said Kong.
The study appears in the International Journal of Radiation Oncology*Biology*Physics.