From the Journals

Incidence, prognosis of second lung cancers support long-term surveillance



Second lung cancers occurring up to a decade after the first are on the rise, but their prognosis is similar – especially when detected early – which supports long-term surveillance in survivors, finds a large population-based study.

John M. Varlotto, MD, a radiation oncologist at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, Worcester

Dr. John M. Varlotto

Although guidelines recommend continued annual low-dose CT scan surveillance extending beyond 4 years for this population based on expert consensus, long-term evidence of benefit is lacking.

Investigators led by John M. Varlotto, MD, a radiation oncologist at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, Worcester, analyzed Surveillance, Epidemiology & End Results (SEER) data for more than 58,000 patients with first and sometimes second non–small cell lung cancers initially treated by surgical resection.

Study results reported in Lung Cancer showed that the age-adjusted incidence of second lung cancers occurring 4-10 years after the first lung cancer rose sharply during the 1985-2014 study period, driven by a large uptick in women patients.

Among all patients, second lung cancers had similar overall survival as first lung cancers, but poorer lung cancer–specific survival. However, among the subset of patients having early-stage resectable disease (tumors measuring less than 4 cm with negative nodes), both outcomes were statistically indistinguishable.

“Because our investigation noted that the overall survival of patients undergoing a second lung cancer operation was similar to those patients undergoing a first operation, and because there is a rising rate of second lung cancer in lung cancer survivors, we feel that continued surveillance beyond the 4-year interval as recommended by the American Association for Thoracic Surgery as well as the [National Comprehensive Cancer Network] guidelines would be beneficial to long-term survivors of early-stage lung cancer,” Dr. Varlotto and coinvestigators wrote.

“The recent results from recent lung cancer screening studies demonstrate that females may benefit preferentially from screening … and our study suggests that these preferential benefits of increased CT scan surveillance may extend to females who are long-term survivors of lung cancer as well,” they added.

Findings in context

Mara Antonoff, MD, an assistant professor of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston

Dr. Mara Antonoff

“As this is an observational study, it is challenging to understand what is driving the rise in prevalence of second lung cancers,” Mara Antonoff, MD, of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston commented in an interview.

“Overall, the findings are very important, as they suggest that we should continue to perform surveillance imaging for patients beyond recommended guidelines, which may allow us to achieve better survival outcomes for those individuals who develop a second lung cancer years after the first lung cancer,” she agreed.

“Just as lung cancer screening is important to identifying lung cancers at an earlier stage when they are more easily treatable and more likely to be cured, surveillance after an initial treatment for lung cancer would allow a diagnosis of second lung cancers at an earlier stage, so the patients can again achieve durable cure,” Dr. Antonoff concluded.


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