By Jennifer C. King, PhD, Director of Science & Research
I recently returned from a meeting focused on new targeted therapies and immunotherapies for lung cancer. It was an unusual conference with many days’ worth of 5 minute talks – each one on a new drug or drug combination that is being tested to treat lung cancer. It was inspiring and overwhelming at the same time and I think that is probably a perfect reflection of how making lung cancer treatment decisions may be for patients right now.
There is now more hope for people diagnosed with lung cancer than ever before. Before, lung cancer was a not-talked-about disease with few good treatment options, but things have been changing. There are many new therapies and patients are living longer and with a better quality of life. You even see commercials about lung cancer on TV!
Now, if, for example, you are a patient with newly diagnosed lung cancer that has spread outside your lungs, you and your treatment team have many options. The choices depend on a lot of factors about your health, your goals and the specific makeup of your cancer. You could go on traditional chemotherapy, or a targeted therapy that targets your specific tumor or an immunotherapy that helps your body to fight the disease. (Watch a video of me explaining the difference between these HERE). Or you could even go on a clinical trial combining more than one of these choices. How do you know what is best and which choices are options for you?
More than ever you need to have a conversation with your treatment team and ask questions. Think about what matters most to you and your goals for treatment and be sure to talk with your team about them. Ask why your team is making the recommendations they are? Notably, all patients should now be receiving molecular testing to help determine which option is best for them. Certain therapies are only available if your cancer has certain molecular changes. Ask your doctor if you have had testing, what the results were and what they mean for your treatment choices.
If you haven’t had testing, you can call our HelpLine at 1-800-298-2436 and ask for testing through our LungMATCH program which will coordinate with your doctor. Even if you don’t have biopsy tissue samples and don’t want another biopsy, some testing can now be done by liquid biopsy which only requires a blood draw.
This is a time of great hope and change in the lung cancer community. We have some amazing advocates who are surviving longer and speaking out louder to make sure that everyone has access to these new treatments. Be sure to educate yourself as much as you can and discuss all of your options with your treatment team. If you are able, it often helps to bring a family member or friend to take notes and help you discuss your options at different steps of the journey. And if you need support, you can call Lung Cancer Alliance HelpLine at 1-800-298-2436 for information or referrals.
As a scientist, the best part of my job is to watch scientific breakthroughs that lead to new treatment options that are helping people like you. Stay tuned because the takeaway from that meeting is that many more of these are coming.