Lung Cancer Treatment Needs Adjusting

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Australians with complex lung cancer are dying much sooner than patients in Taiwan, according to new research. Oncologist Dr. Say Liang Ng says the research, published in the European Journal of Cancer Care, highlights the restrictions of chemotherapy as a frontline defense against the country’s leading cancer killer.

“It’s time to rethink the chemotherapy-first approach,” Dr. Ng stated.
Researchers compared lung cancer survival rates with patients in Australia, Brazil, Germany, Italy, Taiwan and Korea. The study, sponsored by pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co, analyzed the results of more than 1200 patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer.

Survival results in Australia were similar with patients from Europe but there was a strong difference when compared with Taiwanese patients, Dr Ng added.

Patients in Australia survived an average of 19.6 months following diagnosis. In Taiwan, patients lived more than twice as long (41.3 months). Dr Ng from Bendigo who was an author on the paper reported the better survival rates in Taiwan were because of the therapies being used that target a particular molecular mutation in the cancer, which is more seen in Asians.

Last month immunotherapy drug Opdivo was listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, providing Australians with advanced lung and renal cancer affordable access to it. The move was greeted by Lung Foundation Australia, which mentioned it would help stretch the lives of many with the disease. Though, with a projected 9000 people likely to die of lung cancer this year, Dr Ng wants to see more targeted treatments become available in Australia.

Sanchia Aranda, CEO of Cancer Council Australia, says there were restrictions to the study and advised caution.

She adds the Taiwanese patients in the study were more likely to be women and less probably to be smokers, factors connected to better survival. Nonetheless, Prof Aranda agrees the lesser outcomes in Australian patients with advanced lung cancer is “concerning”.

“We know that the standard chemotherapy regiments improves survival marginally but they don’t give you long term survival so they are still really inadequate treatments,” Prof Aranda reported AAP.

“That said metastatic disease is really difficult to treat,” she noted.
An early diagnosis test – one that would find a blood biomarker – should be the priority of research investment, Prof Aranda stated.

“If you get early disease and you operate on it and treat it according to standard protocols you can get to 65 per cent five year survival, which is substantially different to the 10 per cent for Australia in this report,” she concluded.

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