Lung cancer is the leading cause of death among cancer patients according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some of the most recent statistics show that in 2010, over 158,00 people died from lung cancer. However, a new experimental drug may increase the survival rates.

A recent study, reported today at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, found that the experimental drug, ramucirumab, was more effective than standard chemotherapy treatments and improved survival by over a month in patients with lung cancer.

"This is the first treatment in approximately a decade to improve the outcome of patients in the second-line setting," said author of the study Dr. Maurice Perol, head of thoracic oncology at the Cancer Research Center of Lyon in France, according to HealthDay. "The survival improvement is significant because patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer typically have a very short survival time following second-line therapy."

Ramucirumab is a targeted therapy treatment that eradicates cancer by preventing the creation of new blood vessels in tumors, depriving them of the necessary nutrients and oxygen. The study included 1,253 patients with stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer that had progressed despite standard chemotherapy. All patients in the study were treated with the chemotherapy drug docetaxel. Some were randomly assigned to take ramucircumab while others got a placebo. 

The researchers discovered that 23 percent of the patients who added ramucirumab to their chemotherapy treatment experienced tumor shrinkage, when compared to the 13.5 percent of patients who received a placebo. Overall, patients who used ramucirumab experienced an average survival of about 10.5 months compared to 9.1 months for those who were given the placebo with their chemotherapy.

More good news about this research is that the side effects of ramucirumab were very minimal. "There was no increase in adverse events or in pulmonary hemorrhage (bleeding from the lung), which is one of the greatest potential risks," Perol said.

The drug improved survival against all types of non-small lung cancer meaning it could help patients with reoccurring lung cancer. "I find this drug interesting because it represents an attempt to step beyond the usual cytotoxic agents. But on its own, it's not a remarkable breakthrough," Norman Edelman, senior medical advisor for the American Lung Association, told HealthDay.

Despite the exciting news, the drug will be very expensive Edelman said. "Some people will have an extra year. Other people will have nothing," Edelman said. "And it won't be cheap. The new biologics are expensive. We're talking tens of thousands of dollars for the cost of treatment. These are complicated decisions."

According to the American Lung Association, an estimated 159,260 Americans are expected to die from lung cancer in 2014 — about 27 percent of all cancer deaths. Over time, and with a little more testing, the new drug could potentially help reduce these numbers.

Source: Perol M, et al. At The Annual Meeting Of The American Society Of Clinical Oncology. 2014.