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Study: Elderly lung cancer patients should get standard chemo too

From Miriam Falco, CNN
  • Lung cancer patients over 70 should be considered for chemo treatment, study says
  • Patients younger than 70 offered standard chemotherapy treatment of two drugs
  • Oncologist: Study is going to be practice-changing, it shows "kinder, gentler chemo"

(CNN) -- Lung cancer patients who are 70 years or older should be considered for a more aggressive chemotherapy treatment offered to patients who are decades younger, according to a new study presented at a major cancer conference Saturday.

New research presented at the annual conference of the American Society of Clinical Oncologists (ASCO) in Chicago, shows elderly patients lived longer cancer-free and longer overall when they undergo this style of chemotherapy.

"These results demonstrate that a more intensive regimen given to younger patients can be effective and tolerable in this (elderly) group," lead researcher Dr. Elisabeth Quoix said in a press release.

Patients younger than 70 are offered a standard chemotherapy treatment that combines two drugs. But elderly patients are usually one chemotherapy drug because physicians fear they can't tolerate the side effects.

Researchers in France studied 451 patients between the ages of 70 and 89, all diagnosed with advanced non-small cell lung cancer, the most common form of lung cancer.

They were divided into two groups. Half were given the standard form of chemotherapy, which combines paclitaxel (also known as Taxol) and carboplatin. The other half were given a single chemo drug -- either gemcitabine (also known as Gemzar) or vinorelbine (Navelbine).

The study was stopped early when researchers found that overall survival period for patients given the combination chemotherapy was 10.4 months compared to 6.2 months for those getting only one drug.

They also found patients getting two drugs lived twice as long before their cancer got worse and the side effects were tolerable.

ASCO President Dr. Douglas Blaney told CNN this study is going to be practice-changing because it shows "standard chemo is better than kinder, gentler chemo."

Dr. Mark Kris, chief of thoracic oncology at Memorial-Sloan Kettering Hospital in New York and ASCO spokesman, told CNN the impact of this trial will be "huge."

He says the average age of diagnosis for this type of lung cancer is 71.

According to the National Cancer Institute, doctors may be reluctant to use aggressive treatment for their cancer because elderly patients often have additional health problems.

Kris says "the message of this paper is really important" because it encourages oncologists to look beyond their patient's chronological age and if the patient is fit enough, doctors should have the "confidence to give the best treatment available to older adults with the anticipation of getting the same benefits and side effects."

Kris says "of all the trials, this one is the one with the most immediate impact" because doctors and patients can take this information and use it next week.