The common practice of exposing lung cancer patients to radiation therapy after surgery may do more harm than good and should not be used routinely, a study has found.
Many lung cancer patients undergo radiation therapy after surgery to treat any remaining cancer cells. But the results of previous studies examining the effectiveness of the treatment have been contradictory or inconclusive.
In the largest study of its kind, an international team of researchers combined information gathered over the past 30 years in nine studies involving 2,128 lung cancer patients worldwide.
Patients who had been treated with radiation therapy after surgery were 21 percent more likely to die than those who only had surgery, according to the study published today in The Lancet, a British medical journal. Researchers are unsure why.
About 900,000 people worldwide are diagnosed with lung cancer every year, according to the World Health Organization.
Dr. Gordon McVie, director general at the Cancer Research Campaign in London and a lung cancer specialist who was not part of the study, said the research was authoritative and important.
“It should be compuLsory reading for chief executives of hospitals. In many parts, this is routine treatment. It has been assumed that it was a good idea,” he said. “I was unsurprised that radiotherapy didn’t prolong survival, but what I’m really concerned about is that it could actually do harm. There is a very clear message here.”
The patients in the study had non-small-cell lung cancer, which accounts for 80 percent of lung cancer cases. A total of 1,056 had surgery and radiotherapy while 1,072 had surgery alone.
The detrimental effect wa.s worst in patients in the early stages of the disease, the study said.
In those with more advanced but still operable lung cancer, the study said radiation therapy did not seem to cause harm although it also did not appear to help.
Researchers concluded that radiation therapy should not be given routinely to patients in the early stage of non-small-cell lung cancer and that its role in the treatment of more advanced stages of the disease “is not clear and may warrant further research.”
The Associated Press, reprinted from Newsday, July 24, 1998