Treatment and outcomes for elderly patients with small cell lung cancer

R. J. Stephens, D. H. Johnson

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


It is estimated that approximately half of the 500 000 people diagnosed with lung cancer worldwide every year are aged >70 years. Thus, this disease represents a major problem in the elderly and one that will indeed increase as the median age of the population increases. For small cell lung cancer (SCLC), which accounts for approximately 20% of cases of lung cancer, the primary treatment is chemotherapy and in the majority of cases the primary aim is to control the disease which generally would have spread beyond the lungs at the time of presentation. A small number of 'standard' chemotherapy regimens (combined with radiotherapy for patients with limited disease) have been shown to improve survival and quality of life and are widely used. Much of the work investigating the relationship between age and treatment outcomes has been based on clinical trial data and may itself be inherently biased due to trial eligibility criteria excluding elderly patients. However, there is no good evidence that elderly patients fare worse with treatment than their younger counterparts in terms of response rates and survival. Nevertheless with increasing age comes increasing concomitant illnesses which may account for the widely observed increases in drug toxicity, and this may be the primary consideration in selecting the treatment option. Thus for many elderly patients, carboplatin/etoposide may be the treatment of choice because it is perhaps the least toxic of the standard regimens. Whatever regimen is chosen, the key to treatment effectiveness seems to be to deliver the first 3 or 4 cycles without delay or dosage reduction. Although palliation of symptoms remains a major goal in the treatment of all patients with SCLC there is a dearth of data on whether elderly patients are equally well palliated as their younger counterparts. There is no good evidence that age per se should be a factor in deciding whether patients should receive standard treatment rather than a more gentle approach, and more elderly patients should be included in clinical trials. The key areas where more information is required regarding the treatment and outcomes of elderly patients with SCLC are the assessment of palliation, and comprehensive reviews of all patients diagnosed with the disease, not just those included in trials.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)229-247
Number of pages19
JournalDrugs and Aging
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2000

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geriatrics and Gerontology
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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