If you are experiencing a medical emergency, please call 911 or seek care at an emergency room.
For some people who have lung cancer, immunotherapy can be an effective tool because it relies on the body's immune system to eliminate cancer cells. Targeted therapies, on the other hand, do not directly affect the immune system; instead, they directly attack specific cancerous cells. Targeted therapy is meant for a small, defined population of lung cancer patients.
Targeted therapy acknowledges that lung cancer is not one diseaseThere are dozens of types of lung cancer, and each behaves differently. These different types of cancers require individualized types of treatment.
As medicine has come to understand those differences more completely, targeted therapies have been developed to address and treat the various types of lung cancer.
What You Should Know About Targeted Therapy
When it comes to targeted therapy, most of the questions people have are about the testing itself. Since targeted therapy uses medication that attacks specific components of a tumor's DNA, the first step is to determine whether a tumor will react to the regimen. This requires testing of the tumor through a biopsy. The biopsy may be tested on-site or may be sent out to another institution, but results are generally available in a matter of days.
When the biopsy reveals a mutation, an oncologist will work with you to determine which type of targeted therapy will be most effective against that particular mutation.
You should know that there are three specific DNA mutations for which the FDA has approved drugs for advanced lung cancer. These drugs are superior to chemotherapy and can begin working immediately. They typically come in the form of a pill taken once or twice a day and offer better responses than chemotherapy.
Even if the mutations that doctors expect are not present, your doctor can work with you to search for other mutations that can be treated with targeted therapies. Otherwise, you may move on to chemotherapy, an appropriate treatment approach.
Keep in mind that there may also be clinical trials that are available to patients with certain types of mutations.
How Targeted Therapies Influence Patient Care
Today, standard DNA and biopsy tests should be done on virtually everyone with lung cancer in the United States. Be aware that insurance may not cover more advanced tests, and that out-of-pocket expenses can be high. Don't despair, there are many assistance programs designed to help people afford advanced testing.
While advanced targeted therapies can work very well, they are not a "cure," and it is important for patients to temper their expectations accordingly. If a particular drug stops working, doctors will determine how the target has changed, and address the new reality accordingly.
While targeted therapies are effective for only a small percentage of lung cancer patients, they can be a well-tolerated and efficient form of medication that is intended for long-term administration. While they do not "cure" cancer, they can offer a durable solution that opens up a whole new cabinet of potential treatments for lung cancer patients.
As time goes on, doctors hope to identify more mutations and to offer more specific, targeted therapies to help improve the prognosis for other lung cancer patients.