Exploring New Targeted Approaches to Improve Lung Cancer Survival

For patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), surgery to remove tumors along with surrounding healthy tissue offers the best chance for a cure. But operations aren't an option for many. Most lung cancer patients smoke, and if their lung function is already poor, surgery could threaten their ability to breathe by removing too much of their remaining healthy lung tissue.

Until recently, standard radiation therapy would have been the best alternative for these patients. But this approach is more likely to damage non-cancerous tissue—and less likely than surgery to eradicate tumors. Just 10% of NSCLC patients will survive for five years after undergoing standard radiation.

A new radiation therapy technique— stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT)—is now being used at Roswell Park to give these patients a better chance at survival. This new procedure uses Image Guided Radiation Therapy (IGRT) techniques to precisely target tumors with a powerful blast of radiation and to spare the surrounding functional lung. Patients require just one to three treatments (or "fractions").

Dr. Jorge Gomez, the Director of Thoracic Radiation Oncology at Roswell Park, was awarded a grant from donor funding to take the technique to the next level. Working closely with team members from the Thoracic Center, he is enrolling patients in a clinical research study to see if one dose of SBRT may be just as effective, and even less toxic, than three.

"A single fraction, if proven equivalent to three fractions, is more convenient for the patients, and more cost-effective," he explained.

Using tissue samples from patients in the study, Gomez also is collaborating with Roswell Park colleagues to identify markers in tumors—and even blood and urine—that could help spot patients at risk of cancer spread, tumor recurrence, or treatment toxicity.