MONDAY, Oct. 24, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- New research suggests that physicians may be able to strengthen the power of chemotherapy in patients with the most common form of lung cancer by adding a cancer vaccine to the treatment.
The combined treatment for non-small cell lung cancer was tested in a phase 2 study and still has to go through more research, as experimental drugs go through three phases of study. Although the rate of serious side effects was somewhat higher in those who received both treatments compared to chemotherapy alone, this new approach seems feasible, the study authors said.
Commenting on the study, Srikumar Chellappan, chair of the department of tumor biology and scientific director of the National Functional Genomics Center at H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute in Tampa, Fla., said that the research is promising and the treatment could become a new strategy.
Chellappan, who was not involved with the study but is familiar with the findings, noted there are caveats. "It should be pointed out that the increases in overall survival and progression-free survival are not dramatic, but any increase is very welcome, considering that the patients are in an advanced stage of cancer."
Patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer have very low survival rates because of the spread of cancer to various organs in the body, such as the brain, Chellappan noted.
Currently, patients with advanced disease are treated with chemotherapy. In the study, published online Oct. 22 in The Lancet Oncology, Elisabeth Quoix from the University of Strasbourg in France and colleagues assigned 148 patients in the advanced stages of non-small cell lung cancer to either receive the experimental cancer vaccine called TG4014 in combination with chemotherapy or receive chemotherapy alone.
After six months, the cancer in 43 percent of those given the combination treatment hadn't progressed compared to 35 percent of those who took chemotherapy alone. The combo treatment was especially beneficial in a subgroup of patients who had a normal number of a type of immune response cells called "natural killer cells" upon entering the study, the researchers noted in a journal news release.
The rate of serious side effects was 52 percent in those given the combo treatment and 47 percent in those who received chemotherapy alone.
Non-small cell lung cancer is the number one cause of cancer death worldwide, and nearly half of these patients already have advanced disease by the time they are diagnosed, the authors noted in the news release.
For more about lung cancer, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.