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Surprise ray of hope on lung cancer

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http://www.theage.com.au/news/national/ ... 07099.html

January 30, 2006

SCIENTISTS have been surprised by a finding they believe may improve the treatment of non-small-cell lung cancer, one of the deadliest forms.

A Melbourne-based radiation oncologist, Michael Mac Manus, and colleagues studied more than 2000 patients diagnosed with the most common form of lung cancer, so advanced it was considered incurable.

They had all been diagnosed between 1984 and 1990, and received low doses of radiation to relieve pain and other symptoms. The average survival for such patients is generally less than six months. Associate Professor Mac Manus, of the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, said the researchers were amazed to find about one in 100 lived on for five years or more after radiotherapy.

"All experienced doctors will have come across an occasional case where a patient has survived for a long time when they shouldn't have, so we thought we would look at a very large database of patients with incurable lung cancer to see how many of them survived," Professor Mac Manus explained.

"We were surprised to find that 1.1 per cent survived for five years. Some of them survived for 10 years and the patient appears to have been cured. "The long-term survival was an unexpected effect of the radiotherapy. We expected it to be virtually zero." Professor Mac Manus said the study, published in a recent edition of the journal Cancer, suggested that some patients had unusually sensitive disease that responded very well to low doses of radiation, given every weekday for one or two weeks.

He is hoping to extend the research.

"If we can understand what the mechanism is, we might be able to develop some new treatments based on that," he said.

Although more research was needed, he said cancer specialists may be reluctant to leave radiation out of the treatment package for these patients in future based on the findings.

"The bottom line is that even patients generally considered as having incurable disease have some hope," Professor Mac Manus said.

"We'll be saying to these patients: 'What you've got is a very serious cancer, it's very likely to kill you, but there is a small chance of long-term survival.' "

Professor Mac Manus said specialists at the centre were now seeing better survival rates in apparently incurable patients with a combination of chemotherapy and radiation.

But, he said: "We need longer follow-up to recommend it as a standard treatment."

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