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Advances in Lung Cancer Diagnosis May Hold Key to Fighting the Disease

(BPT) – For years, doctors treated lung cancer as one disease. The discovery of molecular biomarkers and advent of biomarker-driven therapies, however, has led to the understanding that lung cancer is actually made up of many distinct subtypes, which impacts the way the disease is diagnosed and treated.

Testing a lung cancer tumor for molecular biomarkers is an approach that provides information about the genetic makeup of a tumor, which can help physicians diagnose patients more accurately and guide their treatment decisions.

Dr. David Spigel, director of lung cancer research at the Sarah Cannon Research Institute and clinical oncologist for Tennessee Oncology, Nashville, Tennessee and Dr. Pranil K. Chandra, director of molecular pathology for PathGroup in Nashville, Tennessee, discuss molecular testing and its importance to doctors and patients.

Dr. Spigel notes, “It is important that all advanced lung cancer patients test for genetic alterations at the time of diagnosis because it may impact the choice of initial treatment doctors make for their patients.” He adds, “Patients who test positive for certain biomarkers may be eligible for an approved biomarker-driven therapy or enrollment in a clinical trial.” A 2013 guideline issued by three professional organizations recommends that doctors should order molecular testing for two biomarkers, EGFR and ALK, at the time of adenocarcinoma diagnosis for patients who present with metastatic NSCLC, regardless of their clinical history.i Recently, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), a leading national organization representing oncologists, also endorsed this guideline.

Dr. Chandra says, “Education is the key to increasing awareness about molecular testing among doctors and patients, especially at the community level, where testing isn’t always as common as it is at large academic cancer centers. The medical community is working together to accelerate progress and enhance communication among clinicians, including oncologists, pathologists and pulmonologists, to reach this goal.”

To learn more about molecular testing in lung cancer, visit and join the United We Test Quest, a national mapping project that calls on lung cancer survivors, their families, friends, advocates, and health care professionals to amplify awareness around the importance of molecular testing. The campaign is a collaboration between Pfizer and the nation’s leading lung cancer advocacy organizations: Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation, Free to Breathe, Lung Cancer Alliance, Lung Cancer Foundation of America, LUNGevity, Uniting Against Lung Cancer, and two additional leading lung cancer organizations – CancerCare and the Lung Cancer Research Foundation – which joined the partnership in November 2014. Together, these organizations are underscoring the significant need to support lung cancer patients by educating them about all aspects of lung cancer, including the impact molecular testing can have on diagnosis and treatment.


i Lindeman NI, et al. Molecular testing guideline for selection of lung cancer patients for EGFR and ALK tyrosine kinase inhibitors. J Thorac Oncol. 2013 Jul;8(7):823-59