Lung Cancer Tumor Testing
Last updated: October 2021
Your Unique Lung Cancer
Not all lung cancers are the same and they shouldn’t be treated that way. Not too long ago, lung cancer was considered one disease, and most patients who weren’t eligible for surgery simply received general chemotherapy as treatment. However, in more recent years, scientists have made discoveries that have vastly changed the lung cancer treatment playbook. They discovered that some people have certain mutations or biomarkers in their tumor that provide insight into what is causing that tumor to grow. Therapies have been developed that “target” these biomarkers and help stop or slow tumor growth. These targeted therapies are more precise, effective and often have fewer side effects.
The Road to Personalized Treatment
When doctors know the makeup of a lung cancer tumor they are much better equipped to suggest a treatment plan specific to the patient, rather than using a “one size fits all” approach. The journey to personalized treatment begins with testing tumor tissue for mutations in its DNA and levels of specific proteins. Let’s take LUNG FORCE Hero, Lisa M., for example. At the age of 44, Lisa was diagnosed with stage-four lung cancer. Luckily, her doctors sent her lung tissue to be tested for biomarkers. The tests revealed she had an EGFR mutation and was able to go on a targeted therapy. Lisa responded very well to her therapy and now has no evidence of disease.
Advocating for the Right Test
Comprehensive tumor testing is preferred to basic testing because it provides a full picture of your unique lung cancer. Basic testing may only look for a handful of the most common mutations, but comprehensive testing can capture mutations that do not yet have an approved therapy, but are being studied in a clinical trial. An expanded test panel can also include testing for PD-L1, which gives pertinent information about how someone may respond to immunotherapy, which harnesses a person’s immune system to fight the cancer. The more information you have about the makeup of your tumor, the better informed you and your doctor will be to make treatment decisions.
Timing is Everything
The sad fact is that not all lung cancer patients who are eligible for tumor testing get their tissue tested. Often large research hospitals do tumor testing automatically, but smaller community hospitals may not – which is where a large majority of people receive care. This can impact patient’s treatment outcomes. It is best to talk to your doctor about tumor testing as soon as possible for a few reasons. Firstly, pathologists need a certain amount of tissue in order to perform this test. The physician doing the biopsy should be aware of this ahead of time so they can be sure to remove enough tissue. Secondly, exposure to chemotherapy and/or radiation can change the makeup of your tumor, meaning you would need another biopsy to determine if a targeted therapy is right for you. That is why it is important to have all of the information about the makeup of your tumor before you make treatment decisions.
Spread the Word
The American Lung Association's LUNG FORCE is spreading the word about the importance of comprehensive lung cancer tumor testing. We are asking lung cancer patients, advocates and healthcare professionals to get the message out by telling a friend about lung cancer tumor testing. Patients need to be their own advocates and ask for the best care available to them. Hearing the importance of tumor testing from a friend, someone who has been through it, could make a world of difference for someone facing lung cancer. Learn more here.
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