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Post-Chemo Treatment May Boost Lung Cancer Survival

Study finds some benefit with erlotinib for people with non-small-cell form of disease

THURSDAY, May 20 (HealthDay News) -- Among people with non-small-cell lung cancer, treatment with the drug erlotinib (Tarceva) after chemotherapy appears to slightly boost survival rates, a new study suggests.

Non-small-cell lung cancer makes up about 85 percent of lung cancer cases. About half the time, people have advanced disease when diagnosed and are treated solely with chemotherapy, usually platinum-based chemo. But chemotherapy only boosts survival by eight to 10 months, the study authors noted.

The study findings, which support the use of erlotinib as a "maintenance" treatment, are based on research by Dr. Federico Cappuzzo of the Civil Hospital of Livorno in Italy and his colleagues. The researchers tested the drug in 889 people who'd had chemotherapy and whose disease had not gotten worse. They were randomly assigned to take erlotinib an inactive placebo.

According to the study, published online May 19 in The Lancet Oncology, the drug improved overall survival, compared with the placebo (12 months versus 11 months). The length of time without the disease progressing also was somewhat better for those who took the drug: 12 rather than 11 weeks. Most people tolerated the drug well, with skin rash and diarrhea being the most common side effect, the study found, but serious side effects affected 11 percent of those who took the drug, compared with 8 percent of those taking the placebo.

"The acceptable tolerability profile of erlotinib, together with proven efficacy in all patient subgroups and oral dosing, distinguishes erlotinib from other agents in this setting and could provide greater treatment choice for clinicians," the researchers concluded.

More information

The American Cancer Society has details about non-small-cell lung cancer.

-- Randy Dotinga

SOURCE: The Lancet Oncology, news release, May 19, 2010

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