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Age No Bar to Chemotherapy for Lung Cancer

Fri August 29, 2003 05:28 PM ET

By David Douglas

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Chemotherapy commonly used to treat lung cancer is as effective and is no more toxic for the elderly than for younger patients, researchers report in the medical journal Cancer.

In fact, Dr. Thomas A. Hensing told Reuters Health, his group's research matches that of others showing that "age alone should not be used to determine treatment for patients with advanced lung cancer. Elderly patients who are fit and active should be offered standard therapy or encouraged to enroll in ongoing clinical trials for this disease."

Advanced lung cancer is increasingly seen in people 70 years old and older, but they are less likely to be considered for the same treatment used in younger individuals. However, research shows that patients who are relatively healthy apart from their cancer survive as long as their younger counterparts, with a comparable quality of life.

Hensing, who is currently with Evanston Northwestern Healthcare in Evanston, Illinois, and colleagues analyzed the results of a trial involving 239 patients who had advanced "non-small-cell" lung cancer, nearly a third of whom were aged 70 or above. All the patients were treated with a combination of carboplatin and paclitaxel.

Older patients were no more likely to suffer from severe nausea and vomiting, nor did they have more muscle and joint pain. Blood disorders that often accompany chemotherapy, such as low levels of white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets, were no worse in the older patients.

When responding to questionnaires asking about their quality of life, the older age group was similar to the younger one. Survival rates after chemotherapy were not affected by age.

In light of these findings, the researchers conclude that "in fit, elderly patients, carboplatin/paclitaxel represented a reasonable standard regimen."

Nevertheless, Dr. Hensing added, "despite ongoing efforts, elderly patients continue to be underrepresented in clinical trials and we need to work harder to develop strategies that can increase the number of elderly patients in these studies."

SOURCE: Cancer, August 15, 2003.

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