Palliative Thoracic EBRT With Concurrent Chemotherapy Is an Option for Incurable NSCLC

Jason Harris
Published: Monday, Jul 23, 2018
Benjamin J. Moeller, MD, PhD

Benjamin J. Moeller, MD, PhD

Although few clinical trials have addressed the use of concurrent chemotherapy (CC) with thoracic external beam radiation therapy (EBRT) in non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), a review of available evidence has led the American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) to issue a strong recommendation for use of CC with EBRT in a subset of patients with incurable stage III NSCLC.1 However, ASTRO refrained from recommending the use of CC with EBRT in stage IV NSCLC, owing to a lack of clinical studies of its value.

“Recent data establish a rationale for CC with palliative thoracic EBRT for a well-defined subset: those with incurable stage III NSCLC who are candidates for chemotherapy,” lead author Benjamin J. Moeller, MD, PhD, and colleagues wrote. Candidates for CC should also have an Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group (ECOG) performance status of 0 to 2 and a life expectancy of at least 3 months.

For these patients, a platinum-containing chemotherapy doublet administered concurrently with moderately hypofractionated palliative thoracic radiation therapy is recommended over either treatment alone. “For all other patients with incurable NSCLC, data remain insufficient to support CC with palliative thoracic EBRT,” wrote Moeller of the Department of Radiation Oncology, Levine Cancer Institute-Mallard Creek in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Practical Radiation Oncology published the new guideline, “Palliative thoracic radiation therapy for non–small cell lung cancer,” online in April. The new guidelines are an update to recommendations made in 2011. ASTRO concluded at that time that the medical literature did not support CC with palliative intent/fractionated radiotherapy.2 When the 2011 guidelines were formulated, authors reviewed only 1 randomized controlled trial, published in 1997 by Ball et al, which explored CC and thoracic EBRT for patients with incurable NSCLC.3 Based on those results, ASTRO recommended against CC and thoracic EBRT in patients with lung cancer.

The authors of the current guideline say the prior findings were limited because eligibility was poorly defined and because the Ball investigators used 5-fluorouracil alone as the chemotherapy agent. Subsequent research has established platinum-containing chemotherapy as the superior choice for treating NSCLC.

Table. Guidelines for Concurrent Chemotherapy With Palliative Thoracic EBRT

Table. Guidelines for Conurrent Chemotherapy With Palliative Thoracic EBRT
ECOG indicates Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group; EBRT, external beam radiation therapy; NSCLC, non–small cell lung cancer; PS, performance score.
Since the original guidelines were published, 2 studies of note have emerged that the guideline authors said were key to their updated recommendations. In the first, a phase II study by Nawrocki et al, 99 patients with incurable stage III NSCLC were randomly assigned 1:1 to either 3000 cGy administered in 10 fractions or the same radiation dose delivered concurrently with the third of 3 cycles of 80 mg/m2 of cisplatin on day 1 and 25 mg/m2 of vinorelbine (Navelbine) on days 1 and 8. Eligible patients had an ECOG performance status of 0 to 2.4

Investigators concluded that the addition of chemotherapy improved median overall survival (OS; 12.9 vs 9 months). OS was also superior in the chemotherapy arm at 1 year (57% vs 25%) and 2 years (24% vs 6%). Chemotherapy was associated with a much higher rate of grade 3/4 neutropenia (22% vs 0%), but investigators did not observe increases in other high-grade toxicities.

In the phase III Strom trial, 191 patients with incurable stage III NSCLC were assigned 1:1 to 4 cycles of 5 AUC of carboplatin on day 1 and 60 mg/m2 of vinorelbine on days 1 and 8 alone or 4200 cGy of EBRT administered in 15 fractions delivered concurrently with cycle 2 of the same chemotherapy regimen.5

An ECOG score ≥2 was required for eligibility, but nearly 80% of patients had a score of 0 to 1. No patient had an ECOG score ≥3.

Chemotherapy improved median OS (12.6 vs 9.7 months), 1-year OS (53% vs 34%), and 2-year OS (28% vs 7%). Follow-up results showed that chemotherapy helped maintain quality of life (QOL), social functioning, and physical functioning scores.

CC doubled the rate of grade 3 esophagitis (30% vs 15%), but there were no grade 4 adverse events (AEs) observed. Rates of grade 5 AEs were rare and similar between the treatment groups.


View Conference Coverage
Online CME Activities
TitleExpiration DateCME Credits
Community Practice Connections™: 18th Annual International Lung Cancer Congress®Oct 31, 20181.5
Clinical Interchange™: Translating Research to Inform Changing Paradigms: Assessment of Emerging Immuno-Oncology Strategies and Combinations across Lung, Head and Neck, and Bladder CancersOct 31, 20182.0
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