Study prompts rethink on chemo-first lung cancer treatment

Stock image.
Stock image.

AUSTRALIANS with advanced lung cancer die significantly sooner compared with patients in Taiwan, according to new international research.

Medical oncologist Dr Say Liang Ng says the research, published in the European Journal of Cancer Care, highlights the limitations of chemotherapy as a frontline defence against the country’s leading cancer killer.

“It’s time to rethink the chemotherapy-first approach,” Dr Ng said.

Researchers looked at lung cancer survival rates among patients in Australia, Brazil, Germany, Italy, Taiwan and Korea.

The study, sponsored by pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co, analysed the outcomes of more than 1200 patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer.

Survival outcomes in Australia were comparable with that of patients from Europe but there was a distinct difference when compared with Taiwanese patients, Dr Ng said.

Patients in Australia survived an average of 19.6 months after diagnosis. In Taiwan, patients lived more than twice as long (41.3 months), according to the research.

Dr Ng said the better survival rates in Taiwan were due to more patients being treated with newer immunotherapy treatments that target a molecular mutation within lung cancer which is more common in the Asian population.

In July, immunotherapy drug Opdivo was listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, giving Australians battling advanced lung and renal cancer affordable access to it.

The move was welcomed by Lung Foundation Australia, which said it would help prolong the lives of many battling the disease.

But with an estimated 9000 people to die of lung cancer in 2017, Dr Ng wants to see more immunotherapies become available in Australia.

Dr Ng said the more of these treatments were listed on the PBS, the better it would be for patients.

“These therapies activate the immune system to fight cancer cells and offer a completely different way of combating lung cancer.The more options we have, the better the chance of holding the cancer at bay,” Dr Ng said.

“We are always striving to find new drugs that are less toxic and we are trying to give more options to patients so they have a much better chance of living longer with the cancer.”

– AAP