Stereotactic radiotherapy offers noninvasive, effective treatment for frail patients with early-stage lung cancer

Dr. Robert Timmerman
Dr. Robert Timmerman

DALLAS — Nov. 2, 2009 — Stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT) should be considered a new standard of care for early-stage lung cancer treatment in patients with co-existing medical problems, according to results from a national clinical trial led by UT Southwestern Medical Center physicians.

In this study, 55 patients diagnosed with early non-small-cell lung (NSCL) cancer and unable to have their tumors surgically removed because of unrelated medical comorbidities were treated with SBRT during three noninvasive outpatient treatments.

The most recent findings, presented today in Chicago at the 51st annual meeting of the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology, show that the primary lung cancer did not recur 98 percent of the time. Despite their extreme frailty, more than half of these patients — 56 percent — were alive three years after diagnosis, while less than 20 percent ultimately died of metastatic lung cancer.

“These findings have changed the standard of care for lung cancer in patients with serious medical problems like emphysema, heart disease and strokes,” said Dr. Robert Timmerman, vice chairman of radiation oncology at UT Southwestern and principal investigator of the Radiation Therapy Oncology Group (RTOG) 0236 study.

SBRT delivers multiple high-dose radiation beams to a tumor in a concentrated, extremely precise manner. Each of these beams is relatively weak and causes very little damage when traveling through the patient’s body, but when all the beams converge at the target their cumulative effect delivers an extremely potent dose aimed at destroying the target cells with great precision.

“Despite the high potency of the treatment, less than 20 percent of these extremely frail patients experienced a serious health decline,” said Dr. Timmerman, considered one of the top international experts on stereotactic radiotherapy.

Dr. Timmerman said the study results were better than researchers had expected and are similar to the risks for healthier patients who undergo radical surgery — the standard treatment for early-stage NSCL cancer for the past century. 

“The findings support the ongoing clinical research in healthier patients who currently undergo surgery for early-stage NSCL cancer,” Dr. Timmerman said. “SBRT is fast, convenient and very effective.”

Dr. Timmerman and his team, hoping to find out if the treatment indications might be expanded in a new trial, currently are conducting clinical studies using SBRT in healthier patients who would otherwise be candidates for surgery.

Participants are still being recruited for the study. To qualify, patients must have early-stage NSCL cancer but otherwise have no other medical problems. For more information, contact Alida Perkins at 214-645-7633.

Both studies are supported by the National Cancer Institute.

Visit www.utsouthwestern.org/cancercenter to learn more about clinical services for cancer at UT Southwestern.

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Media Contact: Connie Piloto
214-648-3404
connie.piloto@utsouthwestern.edu

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