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Thursday, 7 November, 2002, 00:15 GMT
Light therapy aids lung cancer patients
Lung X-ray
Non-small cell lung cancer is difficult to treat
Light therapy could help patients with an advanced form lung cancer, researchers have found.

A study found patients in whom the cancer had spread to the chest lived three to four times longer if they were given the treatment.

Patients with non-small cell lung cancer were studied.

It is a particularly difficult cancer to treat, particularly if it has spread to the lining of the chest cavity.

This is a very interesting observation, but it's surprising

Professor Martyn Partridge, British Thoracic Society
Even after surgery, the cancer returns in up to 90% of patients. Even with chemotherapy, most patients only live between six and nine months.

Researchers at the Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, US carried out a study of 16 patients with the cancer.

They say, while the numbers are small, their results are striking.

Photodynamic therapy (PDT) was combined with surgery to treat the patients.

PDT involves injecting a chemical photofrin into a vein that is absorbed by cancer cells.

When a bright light is then focused on the area, the chemical makes the cells very sensitive to light and so the light kills them.

Expectations 'surpassed'

Each patient was given chemotherapy until their cancer stopped responding, which means the disease has begun to grow again.

If it had not spread beyond the chest, the patient was given photofrin 24 hours before surgery to remove the tumour.

During surgery, they are then given a dose of light therapy.

Half of the patients treated this way have lived more than 23 months, around three to four times the usual survival period.

Dr Joseph Friedberg, head of thoracic surgery at the Thomas Jefferson Hospital, said the results far surpassed expectations.

"We had hoped the PDT would be effective in decreasing the local recurrence rate and it has," he said.

"It surprised us that we appear to have made such an impact on survival."

Proper trial

Dr Friedberg admitted the numbers were small, but he added: "If these results continue, this would be a significant advance in the treatment of this type of lung cancer."

The team do not yet know why they are seeing such significant results, but are planning further studies to try and discover how it works.

They are the only researchers looking at PDT in advanced lung cancers, though other studies are looking at its use to treat small, easily seen, tumours.

Professor Martyn Partridge, chairman of the British Thoracic Society, told BBC News Online more work was needed to compare patients who are given PDT with those who are not.

"This is a very interesting observation, but it's surprising, and we now need to see this evaluated in a proper randomised controlled trial.

The research has been presented to the Chest 2002, the annual meeting of the American College of Chest Physicians in San Diego.

See also:

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