Hitting the Target: How Genomic Testing Has Revolutionized Lung Cancer Treatment

Certain mutations in cancer cells are a bullseye for treatment.

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In recent years, genomic testing has brought new hope to people with lung cancer, especially those with non-small cell lung cancer. Genomic testing is a molecular analysis of a tumor, where researchers look at cancer cells to see if there are certain mutations that could be linked to the type of cancer you have. 

“Genomic testing has significantly changed how lung cancer is treated. In those patients who have activating mutations or changes in the lung cancer cells where we can use targeted therapy, the outcome is significantly better,” says Jorge Gomez, MD, a lung oncologist at Mount Sinai Hospital.

How Genomic Testing Enhances Target Therapy Treatment

Each lung cancer tumor is unique. Genomic testing looks at the DNA and levels of specific proteins present in the tumor to try and identify what’s causing the tumor to grow. “These changes or mutations, which are most common in lung cancer, can be used as a target for treatment,” says Dr. Gomez.

Targeted therapies are a type of treatment that “targets” these mutations directly. Learn more about how targeted therapies treat lung cancer.

The only drawback to targeted therapies, however, is that they can’t help all lung cancer patients. “Genomic testing is most important for patients with non-small cell lung cancer who have a type of cancer called non-squamous carcinoma,” says Dr. Gomez. “For that population of 15 or 20 percent of lung cancer patients, this has changed their life significantly.”

Non-squamous carcinoma is an umbrella term that includes other subtypes of cancer, such as large cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma. “These are the patients that are most likely to have these mutations and benefit from the testing,” says Dr. Gomez. For example, tumors in more than half of patients with lung adenocarcinoma have been found to have specific mutations, according to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

The best time to talk to your doctor about genomic testing is at a lung cancer diagnosis, before a biopsy is done. This will help ensure that the doctor removes enough tissue during the biopsy to do molecular testing.

Learn more about how doctors test for lung cancer