Lung cancer: Research pushes ahead on two key fronts

June 10, 2013 | by Dennis Heady

Each year in the United States, lung cancer kills more people than colon, breast and prostate cancers combined. When the least dangerous form of skin cancer is taken out of the equation, lung cancer is the second most-common cancer in both men and women, after prostate and breast cancer respectively. It’s also the most deadly, expected to account for about 27 percent of all cancer deaths this year. With the stakes so high, researchers have been desperately trying to reduce lung cancer deaths through early screenings.  But they’re also working furiously to develop better treatments for lung cancer. A review of the research presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology Meeting in Chicago, held May 31 through June 4, shows that scientists are making incremental, but important, progress toward new therapies for lung cancer patients. “There are two broad topics that I think will make big impacts in patient outcomes,” said Karen Reckamp, M.D., M.S., associate professor in the Department of Medical Oncology & Therapeutics Research at City of Hope. “One is targeted therapy, which we have been talking about for the past decade now. There have been many abstracts at the (ASCO) meetings that have demonstrated that patients who get treated with targeted therapies can increase their survival from about 12 months with just chemotherapy to the range of two to three years to those patients who received targeted therapies.” Targeted therapy uses drugs or other substances to interfere with specific molecules involved in tumor growth and progression, thereby blocking the growth and spread of cancer. “There are new drugs for ALK translocation [a rearrangement of genetic material] in lung cancer, including LDK378, which has shown excellent responses even in patients who have demonstrated resistance to the primary inhibitors,” Reckamp said. “There are drugs for BRAF mutations that are found in lung cancer that are similar to the ones found in melanoma, and responses have been seen in up to 50 percent of responses in these types of patients with lung cancer. So there are many targeted therapies that patients with lung cancer can respond to.” The second line of progress, Reckamp said, is immunotherapy. “These drugs activate the immune system, and it’s really a novel type of therapy for lung cancer,” said Reckamp. “These drugs, without any chemotherapy, can cause tumor shrinkage in patients. There are multiple drugs in this arena also that have demonstrated some abstracts to have excellent response to lung cancer.” Reckamp elaborates on her summary of this year’s research in the video above.
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