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Patients Learn About New Therapeutic Options for Lung Cancer

Patients Learn About New Therapeutic Options for Lung Cancer

NEW YORK—The availability of new therapeutic options are focusing more attention on lung cancer, a disease for which advances have been slow in coming, said Ronald Blum, MD, director of the Comprehensive Cancer Center and chief of oncology, St. Vincent’s Hospital and Medical Center, New York City. He discussed these advances during a Cancer Care, Inc., teleconference for patients.

“It seems that lung cancer has gotten proportionately less attention than other types of cancers,” Dr. Blum said. But actually, over the last 20 years, new drugs of proven benefit have been introduced.

“In a very clear strategy,” he said, “oncologists have identified the combination of drugs that produces the clearest objective benefit, defined as a shrinkage of the tumor, prolongation of quality of life, and survival, in a significantly higher proportion of patients, compared with other treatments.”

Treating Metastatic Disease

The ability to treat metastatic lung cancer has greatly improved with the availability of the platinums, represented by cisplatin (Platinol) and carboplatin (Paraplatin) and by the introduction of vinorelbine (Navelbine), he said.

Today, vinorelbine is the drug of choice as a single agent, “better than all other single agents and clearly able to prolong survival and improve quality of life for people with lung cancer,” Dr. Blum said.

The third new option is the taxanes, represented by paclitaxel (Taxol) and docetaxel (Taxotere). “Both have clear proven benefit for people with non-small-cell lung cancer,” he said. Another drug recently approved for use as first-line treatment of non-small-cell-lung cancer is gemcitabine (Gemzar).

Not enough attention has been paid to the respiratory symptoms of lung cancer, Dr. Blum said. “I think we as health care providers have underappreciated the simple fact that lung cancer is a disease of the lungs, and if the cancer is not controlled in the lungs, patients will have pulmonary symptoms that profoundly affect their quality of life.”

Shortness of breath can arise for a variety of reasons, some of them reversible, he pointed out. “Pulmonary physicians, I think, are an underutilized resource in trying to improve the quality of life for people with lung cancer.”

In a follow-up interview with Oncol-ogy News International, Dr. Blum emphasized that lung cancer has not received enough attention. Although lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer deaths in women, breast cancer gets far more attention, he said.

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