Chemotherapy can improve median survival by more than 6 months in elderly persons with small cell lung cancer (SCLC), even those over the age of 80 years, a retrospective cohort study has indicated.

In the analysis of data from 10,428 patients aged 65 years and older who received a diagnosis of SCLC between 1992 and 2001, 67.1% were administered chemotherapy, with the most common regimens combining etoposide with either cisplatin or carboplatin, with or without other agents. In addition, 39.1% of the patients underwent radiation and 3.4% had surgery; 21.8% received no treatment.

Median survival for all patients was 7 months. The researchers reported in Journal of Thoracic Oncology (2013;8[10]:1272-1281) that chemotherapy was found to provide a 6.5-month improvement in median survival. Yet, as they noted, one-sixth of elderly persons with SCLC are never referred to a medical oncologist, and one-third never receive chemotherapy. In this study, patients aged 85 years and older were significantly less likely than patients aged 65 to 69 years to undergo chemotherapy.

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Factors associated with improved survival were being female, being black, having limited-stage disease, receiving any treatment, and having a lower comorbidity score.