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Alberto A. Chiappori, MD


Lung Cancer After 70: Is it a Different Disease?

November 15, 2010

Despite the fact that elderly patients comprise over 50% of the non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) population, our knowledge regarding the efficacy and safety of chemotherapy in this group is suboptimal. The “elderly” (defined as individuals ≥70 years of age) experience physiologically normal aging of their bone marrow and kidneys, which inherently increases toxicity to therapy. Standard practice has often been to discourage the use of combination chemotherapy in these patients; however, general consensus guidelines emphasize that performance status should primarily guide the choice of treatment. Elderly patients with advanced NSCLC treated with platinum doublet therapy demonstrate similar efficacy (but increased toxicity) to their younger counterparts. Patients with metastatic disease in which a targeted and/or biological agent(s) was added to chemotherapy experienced benefits similar to those treated with standard platinum doublets, but with increased morbidity and mortality. In the future, effective testing of molecular targeted therapies will have to include elderly patients among research cohorts or risk excluding a large population of eligible patients. Overall, elderly patients with advanced NSCLC, while experiencing greater toxicity, demonstrate the same response rates and survival benefits as their younger peers.