In recent years, personalized medicine has begun to bring new hope to people with lung cancer, especially non-small cell lung cancer.
Personalized medicine involves looking at the cells obtained from a biopsy to see if there are any genetic mutations — changes in your genes — that could be linked to the type of cancer you have. For example, tumors in approximately 60 percent of patients with lung adenocarcinoma have been found to be linked to specific mutations.
Because certain chemotherapy drugs are either more or less effective than others against tumors with specific mutations, molecular analysis of your tumor, also called genomic testing, can help determine which therapies will be most likely to benefit you.
Genetic testing is now a routine part of diagnosis and staging for every patient we see with non-small cell lung cancer. We are one of only a handful of centers in the world to include this step. Based on which mutations we find, we may have a drug that has been approved for the changes in your specific tumor. Or you may be able to join a clinical trial that is testing a new drug.
Testing for Specific Genetic Mutations
Samples from people with lung cancer at Memorial Sloan Kettering are routinely tested for all the major genetic mutations that are known to be important in the development of the disease. Our experts use a variety of technologies, including a new testing approach called MSK-IMPACT™ that screens for mutations in more than 300 genes at once.
Almost all of these genetic changes are found only in cancer cells, not in normal cells, which means they cannot be passed on to your children. The most common genetic changes that we test for in lung cancer are in the genes EGFR, KRAS, and ALK.