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Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in the UK, and more than a hundred people are told they have the disease every day. Around one in five of these cases is so-called small cell lung cancer – an aggressive form that is usually caused by smoking.
Although researchers around the world have made some progress in developing more effective treatments for lung cancer, survival rates are still poor and there is still a desperate need to improve the situation.
To help change the picture, Cancer Research UK is funding a clinical trial called CONVERT . Researchers are comparing different combinations of chemotherapy and radiotherapy to find the best one for treating small cell lung cancer.
Trial leader Dr Corinne Faivre-Finn explains more about the study in this short video:
Back in 1999, a clinical trial led by US researchers showed that giving a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy twice a day for three weeks (or once a day for five weeks) could significantly boost survival for patients with small cell lung cancer that is only in one lung.
This combination has become the standard treatment for people with this type of cancer. But there is a risk of side effects from the frequent radiotherapy, not to mention the logistical challenge of actually delivering the treatment to patients twice a day. And it’s still not entirely clear whether radiotherapy once a day or twice is best.
The CONVERT trial is testing two alternative combinations of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. In both cases, patients will get up to 18 weeks of chemotherapy, with radiotherapy being added to the mix after three weeks.
The first group of patients will get radiotherapy twice a day for three weeks, while the second group will get radiotherapy once a day, for six and a half weeks. The patients getting radiotherapy twice daily will get a slightly lower dose overall, to help counteract the effects of more frequent treatments.
As well as testing which treatment gives the best improvements in survival with fewest side effects, the researchers are taking samples from patients for analysis in the lab. They hope to discover the molecular ‘signatures’ that determine how well each patient responds to treatment, with the aim of developing more tailored, personalised treatment for the disease.
CONVERT is the only trial of its kind in Europe, and is recruiting more than five hundred patients over four years – over 120 have joined the trial so far. Although it will be several years before we know the results of the trial, it will shape the way that lung cancer is treated in the future, and help to improve survival for thousands of people affected by the disease.
Anyone affected by cancer or interested in finding out more about clinical trials can visit our patient information website, CancerHelp UK .
Our Cancer Information Nurses are also available on freephone 0808 800 4040 (9am-5pm, Monday to Friday) to talk to anyone concerned about cancer. And our online forum, Cancer Chat , is always open for people to share their experiences and find information.