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Increasing Survival Rates for ‘Incurable’ Cancer

High-dose Radiation May be the Answer


Research presented at the 2018 Annual Meeting of the American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) suggests that high-dose radiation therapy improves survival for oligometastatic patients. When patients have cancer that spreads to the rest of their body like their bones or brain, in the past they would have been considered incurable.

“There’s a theory—called the oligometastatic theory—that if a patient only has a few spots of cancer returning, those spots could be killed with radiation or surgery to improve their survival.” In a prepared statement, lead author of the research, David Palma (MD, Ph.D.) stated, “Now, we’ve been able to show, for the first time in a randomized trial, that high-dose radiation can effectively treat these limited recurrences, and we’ve been able to increase survival by a median of 13 months.”

Palma et al. enrolled 99 patients from Scotland, the Netherlands, Australia, and Canada in what researchers have called the first randomized clinical trial of its kind. Participants all had recurring cancer after receiving previous treatment. All had life expectancies over six months.

The trial spanned four years, from 2012 to 2016. Participants were assigned randomly into two treatment groups: palliative standard of care (SOC) treatments and SOC treatments plus stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT)—in a 1:2 ratio.

According to Palma’s statement, the group with SBRT treatments lived “considerably longer” than the group who received SOC treatments alone. The median survival was 41 months overall for the SBRT group while the SOC-only group’s overall survival was 28 months. Additionally, the participants in the SBRT group doubled how they lived without any cancer growth.

SBRT is associated with “severe side effects,” including death. Palma, however, explains, “for patients whose cancers have spread, and who are not expected to survive otherwise,” the benefit outweighs the risks. 

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