Elderly patients with lung cancer have not benefited from the therapeutic improvements obtained during the 1980s with younger adults. Potentially operable non-small-cell lung cancers are more common in elderly patients, who are more likely to have localised disease at diagnosis. Even so, elderly patients are rarely treated with surgery. Radiotherapy remains the most frequently adopted tool to treat non-small-cell lung cancer in this age group.
Epipodophyllotoxin derivatives constitute the best option for chemotherapy of elderly patients with small-cell lung cancer. When used as single agent regimens, these drugs show the same overall response rate as combination chemotherapy, but with reduced toxicity.
Haematopoietic growth factors are used to reduce bone marrow damage following cytotoxic chemotherapy, and may be a promising tool in elderly patients. Special attention should be given to increasing the number of elderly patients with small-cell lung cancer enrolled in phase I and II studies to investigate new agents for the treatment of this tumour.