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More clinical trials should combine radiation therapy with promising new cancer drugs

ARLINGTON, Va., May 10, 2018

ARLINGTON, Va., May 10, 2018 – The American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) today issued the following statement in support of findings from an ASTRO-commissioned task force to review opportunities to improve outcomes for cancer patients by expanding the number of clinical trials that include radiation therapy in combination with new cancer drugs. The recommendations were published in the May 2018 issue of The Lancet-Oncology.

Significant advances have been made in clinical trials for cancer patients that include targeted therapies and immunotherapy drugs. Although the proportion is increasing, only a fraction of these trials incorporate radiation therapy as part of the treatment protocol. Radiation therapy is a safe and highly effective treatment modality that is given to more than 50 percent of all cancer patients at some point in their treatment course. The international panel of experts who studied the clinical trial landscape recommends that combining radiation with molecular targeting or immunotherapy drugs holds great potential to increase long-term survival rates for many patients treated with radiation therapy.

“Recent research in radiation oncology and medical oncology has unlocked powerful new ways of delivering radiation and pharmaceutical agents to attack cancer. What is lagging, however, is a robust cadre of clinical trials that combine these treatment options most effectively for cancer patients,” said Paul Harari, MD, FASTRO, President of ASTRO and senior author of the ASTRO white paper. “The significant advancements made with new targeted therapies and immunotherapies suggest that combining them with precision radiation therapy could foster even greater efficacy and unlock cures for a larger cohort of cancer patients.”

Although radiation therapy and/or surgery alone can be curative for many early-stage tumors, patients diagnosed with locally advanced disease commonly show improved outcomes when radiation or surgery is used in combination with chemotherapy. In recent years, efforts to personalize radiation based on unique characteristics of patients’ individual tumors are beginning to emerge. A major clinical challenge is to establish the optimal methodology to combine personalized drug therapies with personalized radiation treatments.

Hundreds of cancer drugs are being tested alone each year, but state-of-the-art cancer therapy is frequently multimodality, combining radiation with drugs. For many new cancer drugs, the most powerful treatment impact may ultimately rest in combination with radiation. The timing is ripe for increasing the number of clinical trials that test promising new immunotherapy and molecular targeting drugs in combination with radiation earlier in the drug development cycle, to identify opportunities to increase cancer cure rates for a greater proportion of patients before the development of metastatic disease.


The American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) is the world’s largest radiation oncology society, with more than 10,000 members who are physicians, nurses, biologists, physicists, radiation therapists, dosimetrists and other health care professionals who specialize in treating patients with radiation therapies. The Society is dedicated to improving patient care through professional education and training, support for clinical practice and health policy standards, advancement of science and research, and advocacy. ASTRO publishes three peer-reviewed journals, the International Journal of Radiation Oncology • Biology • Physics (, Practical Radiation Oncology ( and Advances in Radiation Oncology (; developed and maintains an extensive patient website, RT Answers (; and created the Radiation Oncology Institute (, a nonprofit foundation to support research and education efforts around the world that enhance and confirm the critical role of radiation therapy in improving cancer treatment. To learn more about ASTRO, visit, sign up to receive our news and follow us on our blog, Facebook> and Twitter

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