Over the past decade, scientists have made many discoveries about what makes cancer cells multiply out of control. They have discovered that one way cancer cells are different from normal cells is that they often have abnormalities or mutations in their DNA; in response, scientists are developing drugs that specifically “target” cancer cells with these mutations to stop or limit the growth and spread of cancer. These therapies are also called “molecularly targeted therapies/drugs” or “precision medicines,” because they precisely target the mutation that is causing the patient’s cancer.
Targeted therapies currently exist for two mutations in lung cancer: the Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor (EGFR) and the ALK genes. Lung cancer patients with the EGFR mutation may take drugs like erlotinib (Tarceva®) or afatinib (Gilotrif®), and those with ALK mutations may take ceritinib (Zykadia®) or crizotinib (Xalkori®).
Other targeted therapy drugs, like bevacizumab (Avastin®) and ramucirumab (Cyramza®), can stop angiogenesis, (a process where the tumor makes new blood vessels). Blocking the ability of a tumor to make blood vessels can prevent it from getting the oxygen and nutrients it needs to grow. These drugs are sometimes given along with chemotherapy
Because these treatments work best for people whose tumors have specific gene changes or mutations, testing the tumor tissue for these mutations is very important. These tests can be called molecular, biomarker, genetic or mutation testing.
Many more drugs are being tested in clinical trials to determine if they can target other types of mutations, and even more drugs are in other stages of development. Molecular tumor testing is often required to check whether you are eligible for targeted therapies and clinical trials.
This information is not designed to be a substitute for medical advice provided by your treatment team.
Last updated 7/2015
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