From US News
For some patients, drugs targeting this genetic mutation may mean better results than chemotherapy.
IN THE PAST SEVERAL years, our understanding of lung cancer has become much more detailed and nuanced. “When I started [practicing medicine about 20 years ago], lung cancer was just small cell lung cancer or non-small cell lung cancer,” says Dr. Nathan Pennell, director of the lung cancer medical oncology program at the Cleveland Clinic’s Taussig Cancer Institute. “But now we have small cell lung cancer, lung adenocarcinoma, lung squamous cell carcinoma, EGFR-mutant lung cancer, ALK-positive lung cancer, ROS1-positive lung cancer, BRAF-positive lung cancer, and then there’s a half dozen more that are coming down the pike.”
These new, more precise variations on how lung cancer is defined are resulting in better treatments. “The field by and large is moving away from treating everyone with lung cancer as having the same disease. We’re breaking [lung cancer] down into smaller and smaller diseases that all happen to start in the lungs,” Pennell says. “And we’re trying to personalize the treatment for the individual characteristics of each person’s tumor.”
EGFR is leading the way forward with this more targeted approach to diagnosis and treatment. EGFR stands for epidermal growth factor receptor. It’s a protein on the surface of many cells in the body that binds with epidermal growth factor, another protein that helps cells grow and divide normally. Both EGF and EGFR are part of a normal, healthy cell, the American Society of Clinical Oncology reports. But, “when there are too many receptors caused by a mutation, as happens in cancer, the cancer cells continue to grow and divide. In the United States, about 15 percent of patients with non-small cell lung cancer have mutations to the EGFR.”