A review of the management of elderly patients with non-small-cell lung cancer

Ann Oncol. 2015 Mar;26(3):451-63. doi: 10.1093/annonc/mdu268. Epub 2014 Jul 24.


Most patients with non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC) are elderly but evidence to guide appropriate treatment decisions for this age group is generally scant. Careful evaluation of the elderly should be undertaken to ensure that treatment appropriate for the stage of the tumour is guided by patient characteristics and not by age. The Comprehensive Geriatric Assessment (CGA) remains the preferred option, but briefer tools may be appropriate to select patients for further evaluation. The predicted outcome should be used to guide management decisions together with a reappraisal of polypharmacy. Patient expectations should also be taken into account. Management recommendations are generally similar to those of general guidelines for the NSCLC population, although the risks of surgery and toxicity of chemotherapy and radiotherapy are often increased in the elderly compared with younger patients; therefore, patients should be closely scrutinised and subjected to a CGA to ensure suitability of the planned treatment. If surgery is indicated, then lobectomy is generally the preferred option, although limited resection may be more feasible for some. Radiotherapy with curative intent is an alternative, with stereotactic body radiotherapy the most likely preferred modality. Adjuvant chemotherapy is also an appropriate approach, whereas adjuvant radiotherapy is generally not recommended. Concurrent chemoradiotherapy should be considered for elderly patients with inoperable locally advanced disease and chemotherapy for advanced/metastatic disease. Efforts should also be made to increase participation of elderly patients with NSCLC in clinical trials, thereby enhancing evidence-based treatment decisions for this majority group. This will require overcoming barriers relating to trial design and to physician and patient awareness and attitudes.

Keywords: elderly; management; non-small-cell lung cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / diagnosis*
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / therapy*
  • Chemotherapy, Adjuvant / methods
  • Clinical Trials as Topic / methods
  • Combined Modality Therapy / methods
  • Disease Management*
  • Geriatric Assessment / methods
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Lung Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Radiotherapy, Adjuvant / methods