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New technique prevents memory loss among lung cancer patients

Study headed by Barcelona hospital set to change treatment preventing metastasis to brain for those with small cell carcinoma


27 August 2019 05:44 PM



A phase III study headed by Barcelona’s Hospital del Mar has demonstrated that protecting part of the brain from radiotherapy prevents memory loss among small cell carcinoma patients and is set to change future treatment protocol.

These patients, who represent 20% of those affected by lung cancer, often receive the treatment prophylactically due to the cancer’s tendency to spread to the brain.

According to Núria Rodríguez de Dios, the doctor at Hospital del Mar’s Radiation Oncology Department who promoted the study that followed 150 people over two years, it is one of the few cancers in which radiation is administered to the brain with no presence of disease there: “We do this because of the high risk of metastasis and because for years there have been international studies published demonstrating the survival benefits for patients.”

When the hippocampus is not protected, however, radiotherapy to the brain causes memory loss 70% of the time, making it the main reason cited by those who turn it down.

As this preventive treatment is strongly encouraged for these patients, the newly developed technique in which the hippocampus is protected will be beneficial to them since they will be able to retain the advantages of radiation while not suffering from memory loss.

“We have managed to provide patients with an optimal treatment without causing any adverse effects to their memory,” says Rodríguez de Dios.

Strongly associated to smoking

The particular kind of lung cancer in question is strongly associated to smoking and it is frequently diagnosed in already advanced stages in which operating is no longer an option.

People diagnosed with small cell carcinoma therefore heavily rely on radiotherapy and chemotherapy as the disease is generally locally aggressive and metastatic.



  • Cancer researcher Núria Rodríguez de Dios looking at brain scans at Barcelona's Hospital del Mar (Noèlia Llobera/ACN)

  • Cancer researcher Núria Rodríguez de Dios looking at brain scans at Barcelona's Hospital del Mar (Noèlia Llobera/ACN)