February 1st 2003
Small-cell lung cancer is an aggressive tumor associated with highrates of regional or distant metastases at diagnosis. Although highlychemosensitive to agents given in the first-line setting (eg, etoposideand cisplatin), most patients relapse and have a poor prognosis.Treatment options for relapsed patients include radiotherapy forlimited-stage disease and chemotherapy or combined modalities foradvanced-stage disease. In clinical practice, however, some oncologistsmaintain that chemotherapy provides an insufficient survivalbenefit to justify the sometimes debilitating toxicity associated with themore active regimens in particular. Other potential barriers to furthertreatment include patient comorbidities, performance status, site(s) ofprogression, progression-free interval, and previous treatments. However,numerous clinical trials demonstrate that some patients benefitfrom treatment, achieving prolonged survival, symptom palliation,improved quality of life, and the opportunity, albeit rare, for durableremission. Additionally, several novel chemotherapeutics are availablethat alone or in combination help patients lead an improvedquality of life. Finally, alternative routes and schedules-oral formulations,weekly administration, and prolonged treatment vacations-have been developed to deliver chemotherapy to patients with poorperformance status or multiple comorbidities. This article reviews theadvantages and disadvantages of treating recurrent small-cell lungcancer and summarizes the utility of several active agents.