Keeping the Grim Reaper at Bay

Advanced lung cancer test extends lives

October 13, 2011 / Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

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(dailyRx News) Once lung cancer moves beyond its original site, the prognosis dims. Researchers have discovered that a specific test can be used to identify patients who will benefit from different types of therapy - a finding that offers more personalized care for advanced lung cancer patients.

A team of cancer researchers developed a test that can be used to tailor the treatment of advanced lung cancer patients by identifying and evaluating the presence of certain key disease markers (biomarkers). This research extends the reach and effectiveness of personalized medicine.

"Make sure your oncologist orders molecular testing of your lung cancer."

The test, which has a scoring system of 0-400, identifies patients who have the highest amounts of a protein called Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor (EGFR). Patients with scores of more than 200 have better outlooks.

The  test was developed by University of Colorado School of Medicine Professor, Fred R. Hirsch, M.D., Ph.D., and colleague Wilbur Franklin, M.D. in 2003.

European researchers used this classification system, using a classification of 0-300, to select  clinical trial participants with advanced lung cancer who had high amounts of EGFR protein.

A total of 1,125 patients participated in the trial and were divided into two groups. One group was given standard chemotherapy. The other participants received the standard regimen, plus the drug Erbitux (cetuximab), which latches onto EGFR receptors on lung cancer cells and blocks them from growing.

This study found that Caucasian patients with high levels of EGFR who were treated with chemotherapy and Erbitux saw a 36 percent reduction in deaths over a 30-month period, compared to the group who received only the standard therapy.

Dr. Hirsch told dailyRx, "This information will give the advanced lung cancer patients an understanding of the importance of personalized lung cancer therapy and the importance of molecular testing of the tumor before any decision of first line therapy is made."

He explains that "Cetuximab is already recommended (but not yet approved) in National Comprehensive Cancer Network guidelines for therapy of advanced lung cancer."

Dr. Hirsch discussed results of the study at the 2011 European Multidisciplinary Cancer Conference in Stockholm; they are expected to be published in an upcoming edition of The Lancet Oncology.