A randomised trial of supportive treatment with or without immediate thoracic radiotherapy in the prevention and palliation of symptoms in patients with inoperable non-small cell lung cancer and minimal thoracic symptoms

When is it best to give radiotherapy to people with lung cancer?

What was this study about?

Doctors prefer to treat people who have non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) by operating to remove the cancer. But sometimes this isn’t possible, because the cancer has spread too far. Some patients who have this type of cancer don’t have any symptoms, or have very few symptoms. In the early 1990’s, some doctors would wait to treat these patients until the symptoms (which include chest pain and breathlessness) appeared. They would then treat them with radiotherapy. Radiotherapy would not cure people, but would help them to deal with the symptoms. Other doctors chose to treat people straight away, with the aim of delaying or preventing symptoms appearing.

The LU17 trial aimed to see which of these two options would keep people free of symptoms for the longest time.

What difference did this study make?

This trial suggested that there is no advantage in treating patients with this type of NSCLC early.

This trial was stopped early on the advice of the Data Monitoring and Ethics Committee. At the beginning of the trial, researchers had planned to recruit 300 patients over 2 years. In fact the trial recruited 230 patients in about 6 years. The Data Monitoring and Ethics Committee advised that the trial should be stopped because it had answered the question it aimed to address.

This trial helped doctors to be more confident that one option is to wait to treat people with this type of NSCLC when they start to experience symptoms such as breathlessness and pain.

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 1992 and 1999. A report of this trial was published in 2002.

Who was included?

230 patients from centres across the UK, Ireland and South Africa were randomised into two groups. People in the first group were given radiotherapy as soon as possible after they were diagnosed with NSCLC. People in the second group were given radiotherapy when symptoms appeared.