6 pairs of lungs with different conditions

Targeted Therapy Helps Reduce Death Rates for NSCLC

Researchers and doctors in the United States recently observed a decrease in the amount of lung cancer cases they have been treating. They also discovered that there have been fewer deaths due to lung cancer. This raised a question: Is the decrease in lung cancer deaths (mortality) because people are smoking less, or is it because of the approval of more targeted therapies for lung cancer?1

Finding lung cancer information

Researchers needed to find information that gave specific information about lung cancer. Researchers can use death certificates to calculate mortality (death) rates. Unfortunately, death certificates do not provide enough information. They do not specify a person’s type of cancer diagnosis. Many cancers may spread to the lungs, but this does not mean that they are specifically lung cancer.1

Researchers needed a source that recorded the type of cancer a person had, as well as the subtype. This information is important because there are two main categories of lung cancer in the United States:1

  • Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) – This is the most common form of lung cancer. NSCLC is responsible for about 76 percent of lung cancer cases in the United States. Many of the newer, targeted lung cancer therapies are directed at NSCLC.
  • Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) – This type accounts for about 13 percent of lung cancer in the United States. There have been limited treatment advancements for this form of lung cancer.

How SEER data plays a role

Researchers used data from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) database to help answer the question. SEER is a United States-based database that collects cancer data. This database is run by the National Institute of Health (NIH). The database uses data collected from cancer registries that cover about 35 percent of the population. All of the information in the database has been de-identified. This means there are no names or medical record numbers that can be traced back to a specific person.2

The information in the SEER database includes:2

  • Demographics (data on factors like age, race, sex, education, and income)
  • Primary tumor site
  • Tumor morphology (the kind of tumor and how it developed/changed)
  • Stage at diagnosis
  • First course of treatment
  • Follow-ups for vital status

What doctors and researchers discovered

Doctors and researchers found that cases of NSCLC in the United States have been decreasing since 2001. It is important to note that they also discovered a decrease in the mortality, or deaths, from NSCLC.1

NSCLC cases in men:1

  • Cases decreased by about 2 percent yearly from 2001 to 2008
  • Cases decreased by just over 3 percent yearly from 2008 to 2016
  • Mortality decreased by just over 3 percent from 2006 to 2013
  • Mortality decreased by more than 6 percent from 2013 to 2016

The rates of decrease are similar in women in the United States with NSCLC. From 2006 to 2016:1

  • Mortality decreased by just over 2 percent from 2006 to 2014
  • Mortality decreased by almost 6 percent from 2014 to 2016

Survival rates for NSCLC increased by about 10 percent in both genders. Men’s survival rates increased from 26 to 35 percent. Women’s survival rates increased from 35 to 44 percent. Survival rates increased among all races and ethnicities, as well as both genders.1,3

In comparison, there have been few new treatments for SCLC. Cases of SCLC and the mortality rates for SCLC have both been decreasing at a steady rate of about 4 percent. The survival rates for SCLC have not been increasing.1

What do these numbers mean?

We know that the decrease in smoking has contributed to the decrease in rates of lung cancer. This can be shown in the decrease in rates of both SCLC and NSCLC.3

However, this does not explain the increased survival rates for people with NSCLC but not for people with SCLC. Researchers did look at other explanations for the decreases in SCLC and NSCLC rates. They thought increased screening may have helped decrease rates, but lung cancer screening rates are fairly low in the United States.3

Researchers noticed that doctors began to test for subtypes of lung cancer such as SCLC, NSCLC, and other types in 2013. This means that treatments could be specifically targeted to the type of lung cancer a person had. The numbers above show that most survival rates began to increase around 2013 to 2014. This indicates that these targeted therapies greatly contributed to the increase in survival rates around NSCLC.3

Research like this is important to make sure that new treatments are as effective as researchers believe them to be. It shows that new treatments are working and helping people with NSCLC have longer survival rates. By looking at a small but random part of the population, we can show the effect on the greater population.3

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