Study Raises Questions About Lung Cancer Treatment

An emerging study is raising some questions about a controversial radiation treatment for lung cancer.

The treatment, Postoperative radiotherapy (PORT), according to U.S. researchers, may not help increase the life span of elderly patients, said Reuters Health. PORT is believed to help minimize the likelihood of a tumor returning, but the treatment can cause heart and lung damage, which could negate possible benefits, especially in senior patients, noted Reuters Health.

“Thus, these patients may be exposed to the side effects and complications of PORT without a clear benefit,” lead researcher Dr. Juan Wisnivesky, of Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, told Reuters Health. The findings have added to the ongoing debate concerning treatments for geriatric patients, especially when those treatments have been tested in younger patients.

“The marginal benefit of the additional treatment gets smaller and smaller as patients get older,” said Dr. David J. Sher, a radiation expert at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. Dr. Sher was not involved in the study, noted Reuters Health, which pointed out that side effects could more adversely affect the health of older patients and patients may not live to see good effects. “Their overall fitness generally doesn’t warrant postoperative radiotherapy,” Dr. Sher told Reuters Health. “It’s a fine balance.”

The study appears in the journal Cancer and involved a review of more than 1,300 Medicare patients who underwent surgery for early-stage lung cancer. These patients are not typically treated with radiation; however, this group’s cancer spread to the lymph nodes in the chest, said Reuters Health—no agreement exists on how to handle this development and prior studies have resulted in mixed responses. Of the patients studied, about half—most were over the age of 70—had received radiation treatment.

Although it is challenging to compare the factors involved in each patient’s treatment, Dr. Wisnivesky and colleagues said that they did endeavor to take into account patient characteristics, tumor size, surgery type, complications, and other potential differences, wrote Reuters Health. Regardless of how the data was analyzed, the team was unable to find a survival benefit with post surgery radiation treatment.

The therapy runs $10,000 – $15,000, said Dr. Sher, who did note that, “That being said, if it prevents the recurrence it also saves a lot of money later,” said Reuters Health. Dr. Benjamin Smith, of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center did point out that the type of patients recently studied typically receive a grim prognosis: 20-30 percent survival rates over five years, Reuters Health explained.

We previously wrote that higher radiation doses prescribed for cancers and brain tumors have long been linked to female infertility; however, a prior study found that female fertility is affected at even moderate and lower radiation doses. It seems that radiation destroys brain cells that control how eggs are produced in the ovaries.

We’ve long written about links between medical procedures involving radiation, especially CT scan radiation, with various adverse health events; these procedures received the highest radiation doses. Also, the amount of radiation Americans receive as a result of CT scans and other medical imaging has grown six-fold over the last couple of decades. Today, one CT chest scan carries as much radiation as nearly 400 chest X-rays, according to government official

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