Purpose: Based on the promising activity of paclitaxel in small-cell lung cancer (SCLC) we conducted a randomized phase III trial to evaluate whether a combination of paclitaxel, carboplatin and etoposide phosphate (TEC) improves survival and time to progression as well as tolerability and quality of life (QoL) compared to a regimen of carboplatin, etoposide phosphate and vincristine (CEV) in SCLC patients.
Patients and methods: Six hundred and fourteen patients with stages I-IV SCLC were randomly assigned between January 1998 and December 1999 to both treatment arms. All patients were evaluated for response rate, survival, side effects and quality of life with overall survival (OS) serving as primary endpoint. A final analysis was done after a six-year follow-up. Survival curves were estimated using Kaplan-Meier curves and tested with the log-rank test. Quality of life data were assessed in using the EORTC QLQ-C30 questionnaire and evaluated by calculating and comparing the mean scores as well as applying longitudinal techniques.
Results: Six hundred and eight patients were evaluable for efficacy and toxicity. The long-term follow-up confirms the significant survival benefit for the paclitaxel, etoposide, carboplatin (TEC) regimen with a median OS of 12.5 months compared to 11.7 months for the CEV arm (HR, 1.21; 95% CI, 1.02-1.43; P=.030). The 5-year survival rates were 14% for the experimental versus 6 % for the CEV arm. Significant survival prolongation was also observed in the subgroup of patients with stage IV disease (HR, 1.27; 95% CI, 1.00-1.60; P=.047). The previously reported clinical benefit in form of an overall reduction of grade 3/4 toxicity was backed by the results of the comprehensive QoL analysis we report hereby. TEC significantly improves the relevant QoL parameters like global overall QoL or physical functioning.
Conclusion: When administered in combination with etoposide and carboplatin, paclitaxel is able to offer in SCLC patients with extensive disease a survival benefit without additional toxicities, but with gains in patient-reported quality of life. In terms of efficient palliative care, TEC might be seen as an alternative to standard cisplatin plus etoposide in patients requesting a powerful palliative regimen not compromising any survival benefit.