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New hope for lung cancer patients

Trials have shown that a new drug can double the time people live before lung cancer progresses.

The research showed that people suffering advanced non-small cell lung cancer that has a genetic mutation could be helped by erlotinib (Tarceva).

The trials found that people taking the medication lived without their illness progressing for 9.7 months.

This was compared to a total of 5.2 months for those being treated with chemotherapy.

The pill is taken once a day and eliminates the need for sufferers to undergo chemotherapy, according to reports.

Overall, the drug led to a 63% reduced risk of the disease getting worse compared with standard chemotherapy.

The research, presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) conference in Chicago, involved more than 1,200 patients with a genetic mutation in a protein called EGFR (epidermal growth factor receptor).

This mutation occurs in about 11% of all lung cancer patients. Around 3,432 patients in the UK could benefit from erlotinib in this setting each year.

Lung cancer is a particularly deadly disease and has one of the lowest survival rates of all cancers.

This is because more than two-thirds of patients are diagnosed at a late stage when they cannot be cured.

In England and Wales, only around 27% of men and 30% of women with lung cancer are alive one year after diagnosis, dropping to just 7% and 9% after five years.

Copyright © Press Association 2011