Radiotherapy, the use of ionizing radiation to treat cancer, is a little over a century old. Photodynamic therapy (PDT), an approved cancer treatment with far less recognition despite ample research support, is just as old as radiotherapy. Both treatments are clinically approved for lung cancer, the number one cancer killer worldwide. Radiotherapy, sometimes followed by chemotherapy, is the most common treatment for stages 1, 2 and 3 non-small cell lung cancer. (All references to lung cancer in this article are for this most common type of lung cancer.)
But radiation treatments can have a number of adverse side effects, especially when combined with chemotherapy. PDT’s side effects, if they occur at all, are quite mild and fleeting by comparison. Indeed, when applied with the right photosensitizing agent, PDT is virtually free of any side effects.
So the question naturally arises: When it comes to lung cancer, is PDT a better treatment than radiotherapy?
A recent report out of the University of Pennsylvania suggests the answer is yes. This large population study involved 221,195 lung cancer patients, all diagnosed over a seven-year period. The study analyzed survival rates for patients receiving different treatments, including PDT, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, and other therapies. Survival data were obtained from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) program of the U.S. National Cancer Institute.
The researchers found that lung cancer patients receiving PDT showed a doubling in their 3-year survival rate when compared to patients receiving either radiation alone or radiation plus chemotherapy. Patients receiving both chemo and radiation fared only slightly better than those receiving radiation alone. These findings seemed most relevant for Stage III lung cancer patients, as similar percentages of these patients were found in each of the treatment groups.
As reported in the November 2015 issue of Value Health, the University of Pennsylvania researchers concluded that PDT, alone or in combination with other treatments, is associated with better survival outcomes. Nonetheless, because the study is retrospective and had several design flaws, the findings are only considered to be suggestive. What’s needed now are well-controlled clinical trials that allow meaningful comparisons between lung cancer patients undergoing PDT at different stages of their disease.
* Part 2 shares the exciting findings from two recent clinical studies showing that PDT produced a doubling in survival for patients with metastatic lung cancer.
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Jayadevappa R, Chhatre S. Survival And Cost Among Photodynamic Therapy Patients With Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer. Value Health. 2015 Nov;18(7):A437. Epub 2015 Oct 20.
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