Stefania Bartolini, PhD

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Perspectives on Salvage Therapy for Non–Small-Cell Lung Cancer

July 1st 2005

Platinum-based chemotherapy offers a modest survival advantage overbest supportive care in chemotherapy-naive patients with a good performancestatus and advanced/metastatic non–small-cell lung cancer(NSCLC). Despite the survival benefit associated with first-line chemotherapy,the majority of patients will experience relapse or disease progression.In clinical practice, an increasing number of patients maintaina good performance status after first-line treatment and are eligible forfurther treatments. Docetaxel (Taxotere) at 75 mg/m2 given once every3 weeks has been the standard of care for second-line chemotherapy sincethe year 2000. Pemetrexed (Alimta) is a novel multitargeted antifolateagent with single-agent activity in first- and second-line treatment ofNSCLC. A large phase III study comparing docetaxel to pemetrexed insecond-line therapy demonstrated that pemetrexed is equally active andless toxic than docetaxel. Based on these results, pemetrexed is a reasonablesecond-line chemotherapy option for patients with recurrent, advancedNSCLC. Progress made in the field of molecular biology has led to theidentification of drugs active against specific cellular targets. Gefitinib(Iressa) and erlotinib (Tarceva) are both orally active tyrosine kinase inhibitorsof the epidermal growth factor receptor. Phase II and III trialshave demonstrated that these agents are active particularly in a subgroupof patients with specific biologic characteristics. Both drugs have beenapproved for the treatment of pretreated NSCLC. Other drugs, such ascetuximab (Erbitux) and bevacizumab (Avastin) have shown promisingactivity in NSCLC and are currently being tested in clinical trials.

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Induction Therapy for Early-Stage Non-Small-Cell Lung Cancer

July 1st 2004

Data from adjuvant trials clearly indicate that one of the most importantproblems in patients with resected non-small-cell lung cancer(NSCLC) is compliance to chemotherapy. In the postoperative setting,significant comorbidities and incomplete recovery after surgery oftenmake it difficult for patients to tolerate or comply with systemic therapy.Therefore, it may be preferable to deliver chemotherapy before surgeryas "neoadjuvant" or "induction" chemotherapy. The rationale for usinginduction chemotherapy is based on evidence that chemotherapymight reduce tumor burden and possess activity againstmicrometastases, resulting in improved results by surgery, radiotherapy,or a combination. Moreover, induction therapy facilitates in vivo assessmentof tumor response or resistance. Potential drawbacks includethe risk of perioperative complications, and the possibility that the tumormass may become unresectable due to disease progression. Duringthe past decade, four phase III randomized trials evaluated the roleof induction chemotherapy in stage IIIA NSCLC. The first three studiesconsistently showed that induction chemotherapy improves survivalcompared with surgery alone. More recently, a large phase III trialperformed by French investigators suggested a survival benefit in stageI/II patients, but not stage IIIA. The high activity of new platinumbasedchemotherapy-based on response rate and 1-year survival inadvanced disease-reinforces the rationale for the use of these newcombinations in early-stage NSCLC, especially for a subset of patientstraditionally treated with surgery alone. Several phase III trials arecurrently evaluating the role of new doublets as induction chemotherapy;these are discussed in the article. The results of these ongoingphase III trials should help clarify the role of induction chemotherapyin early-stage disease.