Palliative thoracic radiotherapy in non-small cell lung cancer. An analysis of 1250 patients. Palliation of symptoms, tolerance and toxicity

Lung Cancer. 2011 Mar;71(3):344-9. doi: 10.1016/j.lungcan.2010.06.019. Epub 2010 Jul 31.


Purpose: To present our experience with short-time, split-course palliative thoracic radiotherapy (PTR) in patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) with special regard to palliation of symptoms, tolerance and toxicity of PTR treatment.

Patients and methods: Between 1980 and 2005, a group of 1250 patients with locally advanced or metastatic NSCLC was treated with PTR in our Center. All patients presented with moderate or severe symptoms related to local cancer growth.

Results: The response rate defined as palliation of NSCLC symptoms after PTR was 54.1% for cough, 68% for haemoptysis, 51.1% for thoracic pain, 38.3% for dyspnoea, 12% for hoarseness, and 8% for dysphagia. Tolerance of PTR, expressed in terms of patient compliance to the treatment, was good in 92% of patients (i.e., 2 series of radiotherapy were given at the planned dose and time). Early treatment toxicity was observed in 4.6% of patients and included pneumonitis in 2.3%, intense nausea and vomiting in 0.6%, lung hemorrhage in 0.6%, and severe oesophagitis in 0.5% of patients. Lhermitte's syndrome and broncho-oesophageal fistula were observed in 0.4% and 0.2%, respectively. Six out of 70 patients who survived longer than 2 years developed chronic pulmonary fibrosis with respiratory insufficiency and one patient presented symptoms of radiation-induced myelopathy.

Conclusions: The analysis of our results and data from the literature show that short-time, split-course PTR is a safe and effective method of palliative treatment in patients with advanced NSCLC.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / mortality
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / radiotherapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / mortality
  • Lung Neoplasms / radiotherapy*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Palliative Care*
  • Radiation Tolerance