The majority of patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) present with advanced disease, which is associated with a poor prognosis and symptoms such as pain, coughing, and shortness of breath. In patients who present at an earlier stage, the progressive nature of NSCLC and its resistance to treatment often result in recurrence, with the associated symptoms of advanced disease. These symptoms negatively affect patient quality of life and performance status rating, both of which are predictive of treatment response and survival. There is increasing interest in using assessments of improvements in symptoms and quality of life as outcomes in clinical trials for patients with advanced NSCLC. Patients with NSCLC have limited therapeutic options. Even those patients who are able to tolerate chemotherapy can expect median survival increases of only 2 to 4 months. The new targeted therapies for lung cancer, in contrast, are relatively nontoxic and may provide benefits for symptoms and quality of life in addition to tumor responses. The Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy-Lung (FACT-L) scale is a validated, sensitive, and reliable patient questionnaire that evaluates and quantifies quality of life across several dimensions, including lung cancer-related symptoms (Lung Cancer Subscale). The Lung Cancer Subscale ranges from 0 (severe debilitation) to 28 (asymptomatic). A change of two points reflects a clinically significant change in NSCLC-related symptoms and quality of life. In phase I studies and also in the Iressa Dose Evaluation in Advanced Lung Cancer (IDEAL)-1 and IDEAL-2 phase II monotherapy trials, treatment of patients with advanced NSCLC with the epidermal growth factor receptor-tyrosine kinase inhibitor ZD1839 (Iressa; AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals LP, Wilmington, DE) has shown tumor responses as well as rapid improvements in NSCLC-related symptoms and quality of life. In IDEAL-1 and IDEAL-2, improvements in NSCLC-related symptoms and quality of life, as measured by FACT-L, correlated with tumor response, and improvements in symptoms also correlated with progression-free and overall survival. Although symptom response is correlated with tumor response, it is also uniquely predictive of progression-free and overall survival. The FACT-L questionnaire has also been included in phase III trials of ZD1839 treatment in combination with chemotherapy regimens.
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