Lung cancer treatment improves survival rate for patients with inoperable tumors

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Radiofrequency ablation (RFA)—an interventional treatment that “cooks” and kills lung cancer tumors with heat—greatly improves survival time from primary or metastatic inoperable lung tumors, according to a study released today at the Society of Interventional Radiology’s (SIR) 33rd annual scientific meeting.

Of the 244 patients suffering from lung metastases (195 patients) or primary non-small cell lung cancer (49 patients), 70 percent were still alive at two years, including 72 percent for lung metastases and 64 percent for primary lung cancer. The survival results are similar to surgical results from other studies, but the interventional treatment is less invasive and has far fewer side effects and less recovery time. Researchers found that RFA often can completely destroy the primary tumor and, therefore, extend a patient’s survival and improve their quality of life.

Of the 49 patients (ages 27–85) with non-small cell primary lung cancer who were treated with RFA, 85 percent had no viable lung tumors after one year on imaging, and 77 percent had no viable lung tumors after two years, which indicates a cure, according to the researchers. The study was conducted in tumors four centimeters in diameter or smaller, and even better results were obtained for tumors smaller than two centimeters.

“About two-thirds of patients diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer are ineligible for surgery and typically have less than 12 months to live. A subset of these patients ineligible for surgery can be treated with RFA with the intention of curing the primary tumor. Thus, 70 percent of my patients gained at least another two years. This new outpatient treatment is effective, allowing us to treat patients who historically have only palliative options, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy,” said Thierry de Baere, MD, interventional radiologist with the Institut Gustave Roussy in Villejuif, France.

These results are similar to studies in the United States and add to the growing body of evidence for RFA in extending survival time, Baere said.

RFA is effective for local control of lung cancer, providing an attractive option for patients who may not be ideal surgical candidates, who wish to avoid conventional surgery or who have failed conventional treatments. A trial is needed to define if RFA can replace surgery in a subset of patients.

Lung function is generally better preserved after RFA than after surgical removal of a tumor. This is especially important for those whose ability to breathe is impaired, such as current or former cigarette smokers. It can also be repeated if necessary or combined with other treatment options, Baere said.