Background: Although the average age of lung cancer patients is increasing, many elderly patients remain undertreated, mainly because of the fear of higher treatment toxicity in this category of patients. We conducted a study to evaluate the efficacy and tolerability of a combination therapy with carboplatin (C) and etoposide phosphate (EP) in elderly patients with Small-Cell Lung Cancer (SCLC).
Patients and methods: Previously untreated patients older than 70 years with stage IIIB/IV SCLC received a combination of EP (100 mg/m2 D1, D2, D3) and C (D1, dose calculated according to the Calvert formula). Response rate, survival and toxicity were assessed.
Results: Thirty-eight patients (mean age 76 years, range 70-88 years) received a total of 162 cycles. Eighteen patients (47%) received the six scheduled cycles. Thirty patients were evaluable for efficacy (2 CR and 20 PR). The median survival was 237 days and the one-year probability of survival was 26%. The most common adverse effect was transient grade 3 or 4 neutropenia, observed during 57% of evaluable cycles, while five episodes of febrile neutropenia also occurred, with one fatal (bacteremia). It is noteworthy that no renal or liver toxicity was observed, and no mucitis was noted. Unfortunately, a relatively high proportion of patients died shortly after the start of the study. Although most deaths seemed unrelated to the treatment, the possibility of its exacerbatory effect on comorbidities, especially cardiovascular, cannot be excluded.
Conclusion: The two-drug regimen of carboplatin and etoposide phosphate is feasible in most elderly patients with an acceptable toxicity, and the overall results suggest that patients even older than 70 years may benefit from full treatment. Therefore, consideration should be given to offering active treatment to most patients with SCLC, regardless of age but with special attention paid to comorbidities.