Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) is usually classified into a two-stage system, limited (LD) and extensive disease (ED). However, the criteria for these two categories remain controversial. The widely used Veterans Administration Lung Study Group (VALG) definition of LD includes patients with primary tumor and nodal involvement limited to one hemithorax. In contrast, the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer (IASLC) recommends that LD should additionally include all patients without distant metastasis. As a consequence, since treatment modalities for LD and ED could be different, individual clinical outcome of SCLC patients may be influenced by the staging system chosen. Among 109 consecutive SCLC patients treated in our clinic between 1989 and 1999 (mean age 68+/-9.1 years, 81% male) 23 patients (21%) could be either classified as LD or ED (LD-ED), depending on the staging system used. The prognosis of this overlapping group (LD-ED: median survival 291 days) was not statistically different from patients with limited disease defined by VALG criteria (LD-VALG: 385 days, log-rank test P = 0.42). On the other hand the survival difference between LD-ED patients and the ED-IASLC population was relevant (ED-IASLC: 208 days, P = 0.05), indicating that LD-ED patients should rather be included in the LD category. This is further supported by the results of a multivariate Cox regression analysis with all clinically relevant data. Only stage as defined by IASLC criteria was an independent prognostic factor in the likelihood-ratio-forward (hazard ratio = 1.94, CI = 1.26-2.99; P = 0.005) and backward model (hazard ratio = 1.76, CI: 1.12-2.76; P = 0.012), confirming the higher discriminatory power of the IASLC definition. In conclusion, the IASLC staging criteria for SCLC patients have a higher prognostic impact and are therefore preferable in clinical practice and future therapeutic trials.
Copyright 2002 Elsevier Science Ireland Ltd.