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PCI Key to Prolonging Life of SCLC Patients

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Administering radiation to the head could be the key to prolonging the lives of patients suffering from small cell lung cancer (SCLC), a study has found.

The researchers from the Netherlands discovered that the procedure increases patients' survival by reducing the risk of the cancer spreading to the brain, a potentially lethal occurrence, which often accompanies this type of cancer.

Constituting nearly 15% of all newly diagnosed lung cancers, SCLC is an aggressive form of pulmonary cancer that can spread to other parts of the body and kill patients in less than a year, even when treated.

It is the most common cause of cancer-related death in men and the second most common in women, responsible for 1.3 million deaths worldwide every year. The most significant risk factor linked to the development of this type of cancer is long-term exposure to inhaled carcinogens, especially tobacco smoke.

Researchers from the VU University Medical Centre in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and the European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC) studied two groups of SCLC patients. They found that those who received standard care plus prophylactic cranial irradiation treatments, meaning radiation was delivered to the brain before the cancer spread there, had a decreased risk of brain metastases and a better survival rate than those who received only standard care.

In fact, only 14% of SCLC patients who received prophylactic irradiation treatment developed brain tumours, while more than 40% of patients who did not experienced some form of brain metastases. Patients who received prophylactic cranial irradiation also survived longer than their counterparts. More than 27% of patients in the prophylactic cranial irradiation group survived more than a year, while only 13% of patients in the other group survived more than a year.

Prophylactic cranial irradiation significantly reduces the risk of symptomatic brain metastases and significantly prolongs survival,' says Ben Slotman, Professor of Radiation Oncology at the VU University medical centre. 'As this treatment is well tolerated and does not adversely influence quality of life, prophylactic cranial irradiation should now routinely be offered to all SCLC patients with extensive disease whose cancer responds to chemotherapy,' he added.

The trial results, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, are expected to lead to a change in medical practice in both Europe and the US, say the authors of the report.

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