Study finds NSCLC patients treated with low-dose radiation & immunotherapy had higher progression-free survival than with immunotherapy alone – combo extended PFS and bolstered immune response.

Research News Article

A new study found that patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) treated with a combination of low-dose radiation and immunotherapy had higher progression-free survival compared to patients who received immunotherapy alone two years after treatment.

The findings from researchers at Weill Cornell Medicine, NewYork-Presbyterian and Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons offer hope to those affected by NSCLC, the most common type of lung cancer in the United States, accounting for 81% of all lung cancer diagnoses.

Chemotherapy is frequently coupled with immunotherapy for treating people with lung cancer. However, this study, published in Nature Communications on Dec. 19, suggested “the addition of low-dose radiation instead could increase the options available to patients, particularly those who cannot tolerate chemotherapy,” said Dr. Nasser Altorki, chief of the Division of Thoracic Surgery at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center and the paper’s lead author.

Zachary Walsh, MD/Ph.D. candidate at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, was also co-first author on this study.

Previously, an investigator-initiated clinical trial at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center conducted by Altorki and colleagues enrolled 60 patients with early-stage NSCLC. The randomized phase 2 trial, sponsored by AstraZeneca, coupled radiation with durvalumab, an immune-boosting “checkpoint inhibitor.” These drugs work by releasing the brakes on the immune system to induce a response against tumor cells, but their effects may be insufficient to fully eliminate the cancer.

“Using a low dose of radiation to enhance the immune response, rather than a high dose to destroy the tumor, was a novel feature of the trial,” said co-senior author Timothy McGraw, professor of biochemistry at Weill Cornell Medicine. “From that perspective, I believe Dr. Altorki’s trial design remains unique.”

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