World Conference on Lung Cancer: What to Know

16th World Conference on Lung Cancer hosted by the International Association of the Study of Lung Cancer

16th World Conference on Lung Cancer hosted by the International Association of the Study of Lung Cancer

By Jennifer King, Director of Science and Research for Lung Cancer Alliance

While most people were at the pool over Labor Day weekend, there was a huge gathering of lung cancer specialists in Denver at the 16th World Conference on Lung Cancer hosted by the International Association of the Study of Lung Cancer (IASLC).  Five members of the LCA staff attended on various days and were able to have a bunch of great meetings with our partners, connect with lung cancer survivors/advocates and hear a lot of science about the study of lung cancer.   Besides missing pool time (and my kids’ first day of school), the worst thing about the meeting was that there were often 14 scientific sessions about lung cancer running at one time and it was impossible to see everything live.  Despite that, here’s a few highlights from this year’s meeting:

  • Early Detection – Lung cancer screening is here to stay and there is a lot of work being done to understand who should be screened by low-dose CT and when as well as what to do with “indeterminate nodules” where CT screens identify something, but it’s not clear if it is cancerous and should be biopsied. There was an emphasis on better risk modeling using known risk factors.  There were also a series of talks on new technologies investigating whether testing blood, sputum or even just your breath could help determine who should receive a CT scan or whether a patient with one of these nodules really needs a biopsy. This technology is not ready for the clinic yet, but it’s on the horizon and there is currently a lot of research being done in this area.
  • Immunotherapy – This continues to be a hot topic with patients and physicians as researchers learn more about using immunotherapies for lung cancer. There was an update on Opdivo, showing that the patients with squamous cell carcinoma who respond well (~25%) are continuing to respond out to 2 years and are still being followed.  There’s still some controversy about whether there is a useful “biomarker” to predict whether you are likely to respond to this class of drugs.  There was also data showing that combining two different types of immunotherapies may result in higher response rates than taking just a single drug. Of note, this was done in the first-line, before chemotherapy, and there is a lot of interest in studying the drugs in this way.
  • The Changing Face of Lung Cancer – Two different studies at the meeting, one from the UK and one from the US, showed that the incidence of never-smoking non-small cell lung cancer is increasing. These never-smokers tended to be younger and female.  A different study specifically on lung cancer under the age of 40 showed that these cancers tend to have higher levels of genetic changes in genes such as EGFR and ALK.  Taken together, it’s even more clear that lung cancer is not just a smoking-related disease and there needs to be more public education and increased awareness about who is affected. This group also doesn’t fit the current high-risk screening guidelines so research is also needed on how to bring early detection to this population.

And there was so much more including interesting (VERY early) data on a potential new small cell drug that would have a predictive biomarker, an excellent talk on why you should still quit smoking even if you have been diagnosed and entire sessions on supportive care and patient advocacy.  It was a fantastic event and it was worth the Labor Day travel – although I’m not sure my husband agreed.

Click here to listen to Jennifer’s interview with ASCO Post at World Lung.