When you hear someone close to you has lung cancer, one of the first things you may do is search the internet for answers to a number of questions. And if you search “lung cancer,” you will probably see information about biomarker testing. Your search results might return pages that talk about what looks like a jumble of letters; like ALK, EGFR or KRAS.
As the friend or family member of someone facing lung cancer, you are in a unique position to help the lung cancer patient in your life. While you may feel emotional and worried about your loved one, you also have a clearer head and more energy to devote to researching the disease. This distance will come in handy when you realize the vast amount of information about lung cancer on the internet, and likely run into discussions about genes and biomarkers.
Lung cancer drug development is moving at a rapid pace and lung cancer advocacy organizations, like the American Lung Association, are committed to ensuring all lung cancer patients receive the highest standard of care. One of the areas of lung cancer treatment that has exploded in the past decade is called precision medicine: which involves learning about the makeup of someone’s tumor and matching them with the best treatment option based on those tumor characteristics.
One important component of precision medicine is lung cancer biomarker testing—sometimes referred to as tumor, molecular or genomic testing—which looks for changes in the tumor's DNA. Some lung cancer treatments can "target" these changes directly. These lung cancer treatments often cause fewer side effects because they focus on targeting the cancer cell, instead of killing normal, healthy cells too. Unfortunately, some patients are started on treatment without ever knowing if they have one of these changes that can potentially be treated with a pill.
Now more than ever, patients are playing an active role in treatment decision making. Knowing the right questions to ask and advocating for yourself are key parts of the process. But patients have a lot on their plate and that’s why caregivers play an indispensable role in ensuring patients talk to their doctors about biomarker testing. Specifically, comprehensive biomarker testing (sometimes called comprehensive genomic testing), which looks at many changes that could be driving the cancer.
Sara Culver, Global Product Leader at Lilly Oncology, discusses the importance of comprehensive biomarker testing when she notes, “I like to think of it as leaving no stone unturned. So even if you're not a patient who can be linked to a targeted therapy or a clinical trial, the information provided from comprehensive biomarker testing is empowering regardless.”
Dr. Omar Perez, Head of Medical Diagnostic Strategy at AstraZeneca goes on to say, “I’m happy to say that there's been an incredible advancement within the lung cancer field in the last 20 or so years. The ability to target individuals specifically with tailored, personalized treatments, as informed by biomarker testing, may improve not just the quality of life for lung cancer patients but overall survival and there's many examples of that.”
If you find yourself in the position where someone close to you has been diagnosed with lung cancer, help them understand the value of lung cancer biomarker testing and make sure they’ve spoken with their doctor about all of their treatment options. Your guidance could change their life.
For more information about the role caregivers play in biomarker testing, visit our new infographic, and watch Alex and Daniel’s stories. To help navigate biomarker testing, visit our FAQs and checklist or Lung.org/biomarker-testing.
Blog last updated: August 25, 2023