A common over-the-counter painkiller could be a key ingredient in a new cocktail of drugs to improve treatment of lung cancer patients, British doctors said on Friday.

They are testing ibuprofen to see if the anti-inflammatory drug could help to prevent involuntary weight loss, a serious problem for many cancer patients.Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide. Surgery is the only cure, but many patients are diagnosed too late and cannot be operated on.

"Finding new ways to improve the quality of life these patients enjoy, while the disease is managed, is of great importance," said Dr. John Toy, director of clinical programs for Britain's Cancer Research Campaign, which is funding lung cancer trials.

A combination of ibuprofen and megestrol acetate, a steroid drug used to treat breast cancer patients, reduced weight loss and improved the appetite of people with stomach cancer when it was given in trials.

Dr. Donald McMillan of Glasgow Royal Infirmary will now test the drug combination and ibuprofen alone in a three-year study to see if either option works for 260 lung cancer sufferers.

Nearly half of patients suffering from liver, colon, brain and stomach cancers experience varying degrees of weight loss.