A randomised trial of post-operative radiotherapy in non-small cell lung cancer

Does giving radiotherapy after an operation help people with lung cancer live longer?

What was this study about?

Most people who have a type of lung cancer called non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) have an operation to remove as much of the cancer as possible. However, many people are not cured, as the cancer returns.

In the 1980’s doctors thought that giving people radiotherapy after an operation to remove the cancer might help people to live longer. There had been some trials to test this idea, but the results of these weren’t clear. The LU11 trial aimed to test whether giving people with NSCLC radiotherapy after surgery could help them to live longer.

What difference did this study make?

This trial suggested that radiotherapy did not help people with NSCLC to live longer if their lung cancer spread to the lymph nodes near to the affected lung (this is known as N1). The results were less clear if the cancer had spread to the lymph nodes in the middle of the chest (this is known as N2).

Researchers brought together the results of all of the trials looking at whether giving radiotherapy as well as surgery could help people with NSCLC, by doing a systematic review and meta-analysis. This meta-analysis showed that there was no benefit in giving radiotherapy after an operation and thus influenced the way doctors treated people with NSCLC and saved people from unnecessary radiotherapy after surgery.

Type of study

Randomised trial

Contact details

Who funded the study?

The Medical Research Council.

When did it take place?

This trial recruited patients between 1986 and 1993. The results of the trial were published in 1996.

Who was included?

308 patients from 16 centres across the UK were randomised to receive either surgery alone, or surgery and radiotherapy.