Thursday, April 30, 2009

Lung Cancer - Treatment

Treatment for lung cancer depends on the cancer's specific cell type, how far it has spread, and the patient's performance status. Common treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.

Surgery
If investigations confirm lung cancer, CT scan and often positron emission tomography (PET) are used to determine whether the disease is localised and amenable to surgery or whether it has spread to the point where it cannot be cured surgically.

Blood tests and spirometry (lung function testing) are also necessary to assess whether the patient is well enough to be operated on. If spirometry reveals poor respiratory reserve (often due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), surgery may be contraindicated.

Surgery itself has an operative death rate of about 4.4%, depending on the patient's lung function and other risk factors. Surgery is usually only an option in non-small cell lung carcinoma limited to one lung, up to stage IIIA. This is assessed with medical imaging (computed tomography, positron emission tomography). A sufficient pre-operative respiratory reserve must be present to allow adequate lung function after the tissue is removed.

Procedures include wedge resection (removal of part of a lobe), segmentectomy (removal of an anatomic division of a particular lobe of the lung), lobectomy (one lobe), bilobectomy (two lobes) or pneumonectomy (whole lung). In patients with adequate respiratory reserve, lobectomy is the preferred option, as this minimizes the chance of local recurrence. If the patient does not have enough functional lung for this, wedge resection may be performed. Radioactive iodine brachytherapy at the margins of wedge excision may reduce recurrence to that of lobectomy.


Chemotherapy
Small cell lung carcinoma is treated primarily with chemotherapy and radiation, as surgery has no demonstrable influence on survival. Primary chemotherapy is also given in metastatic non-small cell lung carcinoma.

The combination regimen depends on the tumor type. Non-small cell lung carcinoma is often treated with cisplatin or carboplatin, in combination with gemcitabine, paclitaxel, docetaxel, etoposide or vinorelbine. In small cell lung carcinoma, cisplatin and etoposide are most commonly used. Combinations with carboplatin, gemcitabine, paclitaxel, vinorelbine, topotecan and irinotecan are also used.


Adjuvant chemotherapy for non-small cell lung carcinoma
Adjuvant chemotherapy refers to the use of chemotherapy after surgery to improve the outcome. During surgery, samples are taken from the lymph nodes. If these samples contain cancer, then the patient has stage II or III disease. In this situation, adjuvant chemotherapy may improve survival by up to 15%. Standard practice is to offer platinum-based chemotherapy (including either cisplatin or carboplatin).

Adjuvant chemotherapy for patients with stage IB cancer is controversial as clinical trials have not clearly demonstrated a survival benefit. Trials of preoperative chemotherapy (neoadjuvant chemotherapy) in resectable non-small cell lung carcinoma have been inconclusive.


Radiotherapy
Radiotherapy is often given together with chemotherapy, and may be used with curative intent in patients with non-small cell lung carcinoma who are not eligible for surgery. This form of high intensity radiotherapy is called radical radiotherapy. A refinement of this technique is continuous hyperfractionated accelerated radiotherapy (CHART), where a high dose of radiotherapy is given in a short time period. For small cell lung carcinoma cases that are potentially curable, in addition to chemotherapy, chest radiation is often recommended. The use of adjuvant thoracic radiotherapy following curative intent surgery for non-small cell lung carcinoma is not well established and controversial. Benefits, if any, may only be limited to those in whom the tumor has spread to the mediastinal lymph nodes.

For both non-small cell lung carcinoma and small cell lung carcinoma patients, smaller doses of radiation to the chest may be used for symptom control (palliative radiotherapy). Unlike other treatments, it is possible to deliver palliative radiotherapy without confirming the histological diagnosis of lung cancer.

Patients with limited stage small cell lung carcinoma are usually given prophylactic cranial irradiation (PCI). This is a type of radiotherapy to the brain, used to reduce the risk of metastasis. More recently, PCI has also been shown to be beneficial in those with extensive small cell lung cancer. In patients whose cancer has improved following a course of chemotherapy, PCI has been shown to reduce the cumulative risk of brain metastases within one year from 40.4% to 14.6%.

Recent improvements in targeting and imaging have led to the development of extracranial stereotactic radiation in the treatment of early-stage lung cancer. In this form of radiation therapy, very high doses are delivered in a small number of sessions using stereotactic targeting techniques. Its use is primarily in patients who are not surgical candidates due to medical comorbidities.


Interventional radiology
Radiofrequency ablation should currently be considered an investigational technique in the treatment of bronchogenic carcinoma. It is done by inserting a small heat probe into the tumor to kill the tumor cells.


Targeted therapy
In recent years, various molecular targeted therapies have been developed for the treatment of advanced lung cancer. Gefitinib (Iressa) is one such drug, which targets the tyrosine kinase domain of the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGF-R) which is expressed in many cases of non-small cell lung carcinoma. It was not shown to increase survival, although females, Asians, non-smokers and those with bronchioloalveolar carcinoma appear to derive the most benefit from gefitinib.

Erlotinib (Tarceva), another tyrosine kinase inhibitor, has been shown to increase survival in lung cancer patient, and has recently been approved by the FDA for second-line treatment of advanced non-small cell lung carcinoma. Similar to gefitinib, it appeared to work best in females, Asians, non-smokers and those with bronchioloalveolar carcinoma.

The angiogenesis inhibitor bevacizumab (in combination with paclitaxel and carboplatin) improves the survival of patients with advanced non-small cell lung carcinoma. However this increases the risk of lung bleeding, particularly in patients with squamous cell carcinoma.

Advances in cytotoxic drugs, pharmacogenetics and targeted drug design show promise. A number of targeted agents are at the early stages of clinical research, such as cyclo-oxygenase-2 inhibitors, the apoptosis promoter exisulind, proteasome inhibitors, bexarotene and vaccines. Future areas of research include ras proto-oncogene inhibition, phosphoinositide 3-kinase inhibition, histone deacetylase inhibition, and tumor suppressor gene replacement.

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