Asia has a high proportion of lung cancer patients, who are non-smokers, a significant proportion of whom develop a form of cancer known as adenocarcinoma.
"Around 50 percent to 60 percent of this population have tumours with mutations in the epidermal growth factor receptor, and we know that patients with such mutations have a significantly better treatment outcome with gefitinib," said Prof. Tony Mok from the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
"Currently, gefitinib and other EGFR tyrosine kinase inhibitors are considered as second line therapy for advanced non-small-cell lung cancers, meaning that the drugs should only be used after cancers fail to respond to the standard cytotoxic chemotherapy," Mok added.
For the study, Mok and colleagues examined 1,217 lung cancer patients who had never received chemotherapy and had never smoked or were light ex-smokers.
Half the group was treated with gefitinib 250 mg/day or a combination of carboplatin and paclitaxel.
Over 22 months of follow-up, the researchers found that gefitinib was more tolerable and resulted in a greater likelihood of response.
"We have demonstrated better treatment outcomes with gefitinib over standard chemotherapy as first-line therapy for this clinically selected population," Mok said.
"Our study has established the role of gefitinib as one of the standard first-line therapies for a clinically selected group of non-/light smokers with adenocarcinoma," Mok added.
The study was presented at the 33rd Congress of the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) in Stockholm.