Drug combination can slow lung cancer

A Japanese study has found that a drug combination rejected as a cancer treatment in the United States can add years to the lives of people with early lung cancer.

A Japanese study has found that a drug combination rejected as a cancer treatment in the United States can add years to the lives of people with early lung cancer.

Lung cancer is one of the most common and lethal types of cancer, killing 85% of its sufferers. Only one other drug, cisplatin, has been shown to improve survival in early stages, and it adds only months.

“This is a big surprise to American oncologists,” said Dr Herman Kattlove of Los Angeles, medical editor for the American Cancer Society.

In addition, the two-drug combination, called uracil-tegafur, or UFT, is a pill, rather than something which must be dripped into a vein, and it has few side effects, Dr Yukito Ichinose and others at hospitals around Japan reported in the New England Journal of Medicine.

However, UFT apparently would be useful for only a small percentage of people diagnosed with lung cancer each year. It works only against adenomas, also called non-small-cell cancers, and only among patients with small tumours that have not spread out of the lung.

The Japanese researchers looked at 979 such patients. All had surgery to remove the tumour. Half – 482 – also got the pills, which were taken twice a day for two years.

After five years, there was no difference among the 412 patients with the smallest tumours, those less than eight-tenths of an inch across.

But patients with larger tumours were more likely to live longer with the drug. After five years, 85% of the UFT patients with tumours more than three centimetres (1.2 inches) across were still alive.

Lung cancer is one of the most common and lethal types of cancer, killing 85% of its sufferers. Only one other drug, cisplatin, has been shown to improve survival in early stages, and it adds only months.

“This is a big surprise to American oncologists,” said Dr Herman Kattlove of Los Angeles, medical editor for the American Cancer Society.

In addition, the two-drug combination, called uracil-tegafur, or UFT, is a pill, rather than something which must be dripped into a vein, and it has few side effects, Dr Yukito Ichinose and others at hospitals around Japan reported in the New England Journal of Medicine.

However, UFT apparently would be useful for only a small percentage of people diagnosed with lung cancer each year. It works only against adenomas, also called non-small-cell cancers, and only among patients with small tumours that have not spread out of the lung.

The Japanese researchers looked at 979 such patients. All had surgery to remove the tumour. Half – 482 – also got the pills, which were taken twice a day for two years.

After five years, there was no difference among the 412 patients with the smallest tumours, those less than eight-tenths of an inch across.

But patients with larger tumours were more likely to live longer with the drug. After five years, 85% of the UFT patients with tumours more than three centimetres (1.2 inches) across were still alive.

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