Powerful Radiation Therapy May Help Inoperable Lung Cancer Patients


Patients with an early stage but inoperable lung cancer may be helped by an intensive radiation therapy treatment. Researchers from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas TX suggest that aiming powerful beams of radiation precisely at the tumors helped control growth and allow patients to live longer.

The treatment is called stereotactic body radiation therapy, or SBRT. SBRT is provided in one to five treatments over a period of almost two weeks, which is less than conventional radiation treatment and provided more than double the rate of primary tumor control. The researchers found that the tumor growth was controlled for three years in 97.6% of patients.

Currently, patients with early stage lung cancer get conventional radiation treatment in about 20-30 doses if they receive treatment at all. The standard treatment fails to control primary lung tumors in 60-70% of patients, and more than half of patients die within two years.


Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death worldwide, killing around 1.2 million people each year.

Dr. Robert Timmerman, who published the study in the March 17th issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, said the findings could “provide a significant step forward in the battle against this type of lung cancer…Primary tumor control is an essential requirement for the cure of lung cancer.”

Unfortunately, however, while the treatment helped control tumors in the lungs, 22% of patients developed tumors elsewhere in the body. One patient had a documented recurrence or progression at the primary site. And 20% of the original 55 patients did ultimately succumb to their cancer within 3 years.

Timmerman said "While this is a phase II study involving a relatively small patient sample, these results suggest that this technique could greatly improve survival rates for patients with inoperable non-small cell lung cancer. For this group of patients there simply has not been significant advance in survival rates in some time. These results certainly dictate that further study of SBRT is warranted. We are optimistic that the technique holds promise for these patients”

Journal Reference:
Robert Timmerman; Rebecca Paulus; James Galvin; Jeffrey Michalski; William Straube; Jeffrey Bradley; Achilles Fakiris; Andrea Bezjak; Gregory Videtic; David Johnstone; Jack Fowler; Elizabeth Gore; Hak Choy. Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy for Inoperable Early Stage Lung Cancer. JAMA, 2010; 303 (11): 1070-1076