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Clinical trials improving long odds of surviving lung cancer

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http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/medical ... wsid=29449

22 Aug 2005

The recent death of news anchor Peter Jennings from lung cancer served as a reminder that it remains the deadliest form of cancer. Each year, lung cancer claims more lives than breast, colon and prostate cancers combined.

Even young non-smokers are not immune, as illustrated by the recent announcement by Christopher Reeve's widow, Dana, 44, of her diagnosis with the disease. In fact, the number of non-smokers, particularly women, who develop lung cancer is on the rise.

While doctors don't yet understand the reasons for the increase, recent advances in clinical trials have given them new options for treating lung cancer.

In the past three years, clinical trials established chemotherapy as effective for lung cancer after surgery, says Barbara J. Gitlitz, director of the lung, head and neck program at the University of Southern California's Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center. The trials allowed chemotherapy to become a regularly prescribed treatment.

Studies showing chemotherapy's effectiveness against other cancers, including breast and colon cancers, had already been carried out a decade earlier, and a broad choice of drug therapies were developed. But for various reasons, lung cancer research has lagged behind, Gitlitz says.

Similarly, if initial attacks on lung cancer with surgery or radiation therapies failed five years ago, there were no approved drugs available as a second alternative. Recent clinical trials have identified three new drugs for the treatment of lung cancer, and more are in the works.

“We're just starting to get answers and move forward,” Gitlitz says. “We still have a long way to go. These are small, small improvements.”

She and other doctors at USC/Norris and the Keck School of Medicine of USC are continuing work to find new treatments through the center's clinical trials on lung cancer. They hope new treatments will start increasing the number of patients who are still alive five years after diagnosis; currently only 15 percent live that long.

Doctors already have improved the survival rate for patients diagnosed with advanced lung cancer in drug trials. Half of the patients participating in trials now live at least one year beyond diagnosis, compared to eight to 10 months for those not in trials, according to Gitlitz.

Smoking remains the highest risk factor for developing lung cancer. Those who have already had head or neck cancers, or who have family members who have had lung cancer are also at higher risk.

In Los Angeles County, the number of men who develop lung cancer dropped between 1981 and 2000, but they were still twice as likely to develop it than women were, a USC study found. The number of women developing lung cancer during that time steadily increased, and it continues to rise for women nation-wide, says Gitlitz.

Kathleen O'Neil

Health Sciences Public Relations

University of Southern California

1975 Zonal Ave

Los Angeles, CA 90033


kathleen.oneil@usc.edu http://www.usc.edu

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