RTOG 0617: Stunningly Worse Survival for High Dose Radiation in Locally Advanced NSCLC, but Carbo-Taxol Has Never Looked Better


The Radiation Therapy Oncology Group (RTOG) has been working on a large randomized trial in patients with stage III, locally advanced, unresectable NSCLC that asked two key questions:

1) is the best dose of radiation the "old" standard of 60 Gray (Gy), over about 6 weeks, or a higher dose of 74 Gy that has been found to be feasible?

2) Is there a value in adding weekly Erbitux (cetuximab), the antibody to the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), along with weekly carboplatin/Taxol (paclitaxel) and concurrent chest radiation therapy (RT)?

Global differences: Shouldn't every curable patient have the right to the best treatment?


One of the things we learn when studying the clinical research in lung cancer is that "global studies" often include patients with locally advanced (stage III) NSCLC along with those who have advanced (stage IV) NSCLC. Part of the confusion has been the ungainly status of stage IIIB NSCLC with a malignant pleural effusion -- historically termed "wet IIIB disease" -- in the IIIB camp but not having the curability of patients with "dry IIIB disease" --unresectable locally advanced NSCLC without a malignant pleural effusion.

Introduction to Locally Advanced, Unresectable Stage III NSCLC


When I was a medical student, the question about lung cancer that was always asked on "the Boards" had to do with the difference between stage IIIA and stage IIIB non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). The reason this question was always asked is because patients with stage IIIA NSCLC might be considered for surgery, whereas patients with stage IIIB NSCLC would not be considered for surgery and instead would be treated with chemotherapy and radiation. The idea is that young doctors should be able to make that distinction and to direct patients to the appropriate specialist/treatment.

Round Table with Drs. Blumenschein and Curran, Bulky Stage IIIB NSCLC


Here is the third and final case I discussed with two great experts in locally advanced NSCLC. Drs. George Blumenschein, medical oncologist from MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, and Wally Curran, radiation oncologist from Winship Cancer Center at Emory University in Atlanta, joined me several weeks ago to discuss a series of challenging cases that illustrate the complexities and array of options in treating patients with stage III NSCLC.

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