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Radiation to the head limits lung cancer spread, boost survival, study finds

Radiation to the head limits lung cancer spread, boost survival, study finds

A week or two of radiation to the head helped keep a very deadly form of lung cancer from spreading to the brain, improving survival for some people who have had little hope of successful treatment until now, Dutch doctors reported Saturday.
It is the first time that preventive radiation to the head has prolonged the lives of people with cancer that has spread extensively elsewhere. The results may encourage doctors to test this approach for advanced breast cancers and other types of lung cancer, specialists said.
"The fact that this improves survival is extraordinary," because many doctors would have been happy if it merely prevented complications like seizures, said Dr. Roy Herbst, lung cancer chief at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, who had no role in the study.
"This should become standard of care almost immediately," he predicted, adding that most cancer centers in the country are capable of offering it.
Results of the study were reported Saturday at an American Society of Clinical Oncology conference. The study involved small cell lung cancer, which accounts for roughly 15 percent of all lung cancers, or about 32,000 cases each year in the United States.
Two-thirds of the time, the cancer has already spread when it is diagnosed. Such patients are at high risk of it spreading further, to the brain, where it can cause seizures, difficulty walking and talking, and other problems that often prove fatal.
Preventive radiation to the head already is given to people with earlier-stage cancers.
Dr. Ben Slotman of the VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, tested it on 143 patients with more extensive disease, and compared results to a similar group that did not receive the treatment.
One year later, 27 percent of those given brain radiation were alive versus just over 13 percent of the others. Only 15 percent of the radiation group had signs of tumors in the brain compared to 44 percent of the others.
About 30 percent of those receiving radiation had some nausea, vomiting and headaches, but side effects generally were mild, Slotman said.
However, the possibility of causing cognitive problems has made some doctors worry about using radiation widely until more studies are done, said Dr. Eric Winer, a breast cancer specialist at Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.
"If radiation to the brain were as simple as giving Tylenol, you could give it to everybody," said Winer, who was not involved in the study.
With breast cancer, often it is the spread to the liver and other organs that proves fatal rather than to the brain, he said.
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Updated : 2021-10-21 03:27 GMT+08:00