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Lung Cancer. 2009 Dec;66(3):282-6. doi: 10.1016/j.lungcan.2009.08.006. Epub 2009 Oct 29.

Treatment of advanced non-small-cell lung cancer in the elderly.

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  • 1Division of Medical Oncology, S.G. Moscati Hospital, Contrada Amoretta 83100, Avellino, Italy.


Lung cancer in the older individual is an increasingly common problem faced by the oncologist. Elderly patients have more co-morbidities and tend to tolerate toxic medical treatments more poorly than their younger counterparts. Thus, clinical data obtained in a younger population cannot be automatically extrapolated to the great majority of non-selected elderly patients with non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC). The bulk of prospective clinical data regarding chemotherapy and molecularly targeted therapy for elderly NSCLC patients comes from studies in advanced disease. In elderly advanced NSCLC patients single-agent chemotherapy with third-generation agents (vinorelbine, gemcitabine, taxanes) is to be considered as the standard treatment for unselected patients, based on several phase II and III trials specifically designed for this special population. Retrospective analyses found no differences in survival between elderly and younger patients treated with cisplatin-based chemotherapy, with a small but significant increase in toxicity in the elderly. Cisplatin-based chemotherapy with cisplatin at attenuated doses has demonstrated to be an active and feasible option in phase II trials and deserves prospective phase III comparison against monochemotherapy. Among targeted therapies, the epidermal growth factor receptor tyrosine kinase inhibitors erlotinib and gefitinib are the most promising agents and have relevant phase II prospective data showing activity and good tolerability as first-line treatment in this population. Concerning the anti-vascular endothelial growth factor monoclonal antibody bevacizumab, particular care must be taken for elderly patients because of a possible higher incidence of cardiovascular co-morbidities. However its role in this population remains controversial and specific prospective studies are warranted to clarify this topic. Further specifically designed phase III randomized trials are needed to optimize medical treatment of NSCLC in elderly patients.

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