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Fox Chase Cancer Center Experts Find Elderly Lung Cancer Patients Fare As Well As Younger Patients When Given Aggressive Chemotherapy Regimens

PHILADELPHIA - According to a newly published study by researchers at the Fox Chase Cancer Center, fit elderly patients are able to tolerate aggressive chemotherapy regimens as well as younger patients when being treated for non-small cell lung cancer. This was reported in the February 6, 2002 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

"There is a perception within the medical field that elderly patients cannot tolerate combined or aggressive chemotherapy regimens and therefore are often prescribed single agent or best supportive care alone," says Corey Langer, MD, director of thoracic and head and neck medical oncology at Fox Chase Cancer Center and lead author on the paper. "This study proves that relatively fit elderly patients can tolerate more aggressive chemotherapy to treat non-small cell lung cancer."

In the retrospective analysis, medical records were evaluated of 574 patients who were diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer, a slow-growing cancer, which accounts for 80 to 85 percent of the 170,000 cases of lung cancer diagnosed in the United States each year. Patients in the study had been given a fixed dose of cisplatin and randomly assigned to one of three distinct chemotherapy regimens, etoposide, high dose paclitaxel or low dose paclitaxel. When comparing results of older patients to younger patients, the researchers found no difference in the response rate to the drugs and the median and overall survival rates of older patients were comparable to the younger patients treated with the same agents. It was previously reported that most patients did better on the paclitaxel and cisplatin regimen.

Of the 574 patients, 86 of them were 70 years or older and 488 patients were under 70 years of age. Of the 488 patients under 70 years of age, 22 percent had either complete or partial response to treatment. And of the 86 participants 70 years or older, 23 percent achieved a complete or partial response. Overall average survival time in patients younger than 70 years was 9.05 months compared to 8.53 months in patients 70 or older.

According to Langer, elderly patients are underrepresented in clinical trials, making it difficult to evaluate properly the efficacy and safety of current treatment options in this patient population. Moreover, the incidence of lung cancer rises with advancing age and it is highest in the 70 to 80 year-old age group. Forty-two percent of those newly diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer are over 65 years of age and one-third are older than 70 years.

The researchers did find that among the elderly population psychological or neuro-cognitive distress was more pronounced than in their younger counterparts and that older men were slightly more inclined to develop neutropenia, a drop in the white blood cell count.

"Data from this trial clearly demonstrates that the elderly do as well or as poorly as younger patients and that any decision to deny fit elderly patients access to protocol therapy is economic, not medical. Ultimately, functional status trumps age," concludes Langer.

The trial was conducted in cooperation with the Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group (ECOG).

Fox Chase Cancer Center, one of the nation's first comprehensive cancer centers designated by the National Cancer Institute in 1974, conducts basic and clinical research; programs of prevention, detection and treatment of cancer; and community outreach. For more information about Fox Chase activities, visit the Center's web site at

Fox Chase Cancer Center, part of the Temple University Health System, is one of the leading cancer research and treatment centers in the United States. Founded in 1904 in Philadelphia as one of the nation’s first cancer hospitals, Fox Chase was also among the first institutions to be designated a National Cancer Institute Comprehensive Cancer Center in 1974. Fox Chase researchers have won the highest awards in their fields, including two Nobel Prizes. Fox Chase physicians are also routinely recognized in national rankings, and the Center’s nursing program has received the Magnet recognition for excellence four consecutive times. Today, Fox Chase conducts a broad array of nationally competitive basic, translational, and clinical research, with special programs in cancer prevention, detection, survivorship, and community outreach.  For more information, call 1-888-FOX CHASE or (1-888-369-2427).

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