Outlook Improving for Lung Cancer Patients-Study
LONDON (Reuters) - It's still not great but the outlook for patients with lung cancer is improving, thanks to better treatments and early detection of the first signs of the disease, Finnish scientists said on Monday.
Lung cancer is the biggest cancer killer, claiming as many as 300,000 lives worldwide each year, but more patients are living longer than they would have 20 years ago.
"Survival of lung cancer patients has increased threefold," Dr. Ritta Makitaro, of Oulu University in Finland, told Reuters.
Only four percent of people diagnosed with the cancer in Oulu in the 1970s were alive five years afterwards. By the 1990s the number had risen to 12 percent.
Makitaro, whose research was reported in the European Respiratory Journal, believes the figures may be even higher because more effective chemotherapy drugs are now on the market.
"It should be even better now since we collected our material in the 1990s," she added.
Makitaro and her colleagues compared the results of a five-year study of more than 600 lung cancer patients which was completed in 1997 with a similar survey of 446 patients done two decades earlier.
The results showed the tripling was the average for all lung cancers but survival varied according to the different types of tumors.
Patients with adenocarcinoma, the most common type of lung cancer in women and in people who have never smoked had a 19 percent five-year survival rate. Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer.
But for sufferers with small cell lung cancer, which accounts for about a fifth of cases, survival rates have barely improved during the two decades.
Like other cancers, the earlier the illness is diagnosed and treated, the better the chances of defeating it.
Patients who have had surgery generally live longer than people whose tumors have not been removed, according to the Finnish research.
"Nowadays, the pre-surgical evaluation of patients has improved, so that we can be sure that the right patients are being operated on," said Makitaro.
Survival rates for lung cancer are poor because the disease is often not detected until the cancer has spread, which makes it more difficult to treat, and until recently there were few effective drugs for the disease.
Makitaro said new medical imaging techniques and fibre optic bronchoscopy are helping doctors detect the disease earlier and surgical techniques and post-operative therapy have also improved.
"Finally there is some light at the end of the tunnel..," Makitaro added.