Erlotinib was also shown to reduce the chances of dying by 26 per cent in women. Patients in the study had the most common form of lung cancer called non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).
Fifteen per cent of the women given erlotinib in the trial were alive and had no progression of their cancer 12 months after taking the drug compared with only five per cent of those women taking the placebo. Half the patients in the trial received erlotinib and half received a placebo.
The randomised trial – the largest of its kind – followed 670 UK men and women with advanced NSCLC, most of whom who were too ill to have standard chemotherapy treatment. More than half of patients were older than 77 years.
Nearly half of the 39, 750 UK lung cancer patients are estimated to be in this category for which there is little effective treatment, although the benefit from erlotinib was greatest in women.
Nearly 20,000 men and around 15,400 women die from lung cancer in the UK every year.
Erlotinib targets a protein on the surface of lung cancer cells called EGFR. The drug interferes with cell division and stops the cancer cells growing.
Dr Siow Ming Lee, trial leader and senior lecturer at the University College London Cancer Institute, said: “These results are a real step forward in the search for an effective treatment for patients with advanced lung cancer. We are not yet sure why it was most effective in women but this is positive news for this large group who have few other treatment options.
“Erlotinib should be recommended for women with NSCLC who are unsuitable for first-line chemotherapy.”
Kate Law, Cancer Research UK’s director of clinical trials: said: “This important trial demonstrates which patients are most likely to benefit from this new treatment. It is encouraging to see advances being made in lung cancer treatment, especially for those patients who have few alternatives.
“Nine out of ten lung cancers are caused by smoking so quitting is the best way to reduce the risk of the disease. It’s important for anyone worried about lung cancer and who might be experiencing unusual symptoms to see their GP.”
For media enquiries please contact the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 7061 8300 or, out of hours, the duty press officer on 07050 264 059.
Notes to editors
1 ASCO – American Society of Clinical Oncology. Abstract number 7504.
2 TOPICAL – Tarceva Or Placebo In Clinically Advanced Lung Cancer: Randomized phase III trial of erlotinib compared with placebo in chemotherapy-naive patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and unsuitable for first-line chemotherapy.