High-dose radiation improves survival in previously incurable cancer patients: study

Dr. David Palma, researcher at Lawson and radiation oncologist at London Health Sciences Centre.
Dr. David Palma, researcher at Lawson and radiation oncologist at London Health Sciences Centre. via

A new study led by London’s Lawson Health Research Institute is challenging the idea that cancer that spreads from an original tumour to other parts of the body is incurable.

The study shows that high-dose radiation can improve survival in patients with cancer that has spread to five areas or less.

It’s a paradigm shift in the treatment of advanced cancer.

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The study, SABR-COMET, was the first randomized Phase II clinical trial of its kind and included 99 patients from Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, and Scotland with oligometastatic cancer. In other words, cancer that has spread to a limited number of sites in the body.

The study looked at the use of stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR), a technique that precisely delivers radiation to a tumour in very high doses in hopes of destroying cancerous cells. Patients were randomly selected to receive the usual treatment which involves chemotherapy or radiation therapy or standard treatment combined with SABR.

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“By giving this very precise radiation, that group of patients lived 13 months longer on average than the patients who just had the conventional treatments,” lead author Dr. David Palma said on 980 CFPL’s ‘London Live.’

“When we look at the number of patients who are alive five years after treatment, that went from about 25 per cent in the group that just had the standard treatment to about 50 per cent in the group that had the newer form of precise radiation.”

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“In the past, the spread of lung cancer to the bones or breast cancer to the brain was considered incurable,” said Palma.

“We’ve shown for the first time that if cancer has spread to only a few spots, we can target those tumours with high-dose radiation to increase how long a patient lives.”

However, SABR was associated with more negative side effects with 30 per cent of those patients experiencing serious side effects compared to nine per cent of those in the control group. The side effects include fatigue, difficulty breathing, muscle and joint pain, and bone pain.

A followup study to look at the use of SABR in patients with cancer that has spread to up to 10 sites is expected to launch by early 2019.


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