Lung cancer will affect 200,000 American men and women in this year alone, and according to Dr. David Spigel “survival rates depend on what stage of cancer a patient is diagnosed.” Lung cancer specialist, Dr. David Spigel joined me to discuss biomarkers, from how they test for them to new treatments available.
Candace Rose: Lung cancer affects a staggering number of Americans. How many exactly? And what are survival rates?
Dr. David Spigel: “It’s a lot of people, unfortunately. It’s over 200,000 people this year alone that will find out they have lung cancer (men and women). Survival rates depend on what stage of cancer a patient is diagnosed at. Patients with early stage lung cancer can be cured sometimes with just surgery. Patients with more advanced stages aren’t usually going to be cured, but they’re going to have cancers that are very treatable where hopefully they can live for long periods of time.”
Candace Rose: Can you tell us about biomarkers? How do you test for them?
Dr. David Spigel: “Biomarkers are kind of a complicated term, but another way to look at it is these are switches within the cancer that when turned on could cause the cancer to grow and spread. These are ways of testing and looking for those biomarkers, looking for those switches that can then be used to define new therapies, some of these are oral to turn these switches on to help patients in a very customized and personalized way.”
Candace Rose: What treatments are now available based on this type of biomarker testing?
Dr. David Spigel: “Well, there are three that have been specifically approved recently for biomarker driven lung cancers, but some are not far away from being approved. I’ll mention two that are approved right now for a type of specific biomarker called EGFR, one medication is called erlotinib the other is called afatinib. These are oral medications, patients can take it home. They don’t have to go to chemotherapy, they’ve got to write to these oral therapies and these can be used to control their lung cancer hopefully for extended periods.”
Candace Rose: Who should undergo biomarker testing?
Dr. David Spigel: “I think it’s really here now for everybody. It’s certainly standard as part of lung cancer care. Right now our guidelines steer us in the direction of testing. Certain types of lung cancer are doing this biomarker testing. I think this is a conversation to talk about whether this type of testing is appropriate for you, but we’re not far from a time when lung cancer, period is all you need to have this testing done.”
Candace Rose: If you have been diagnosed with lung cancer, what questions should you ask your doctor?
Dr. David Spigel: “One of the main questions is about this testing- has the testing been done already. Can it be done? How would we do it? Where would we send the material? When would the results come back? These are conversations that can happen now, even after the very first visit, it’s very appropriate for a patient or a patient’s family to bring this conversation up during that first visit with your doctor.”
Candace Rose: Where can viewers go for more information?
Dr. David Spigel: “Well, there’s a lot out there. Certainly patients can get information from their own doctors, their offices, their communities. Doctors and nurses may want to look for more information. There’s more information on the internet from the National Cancer Institute, also there’s an excellent website called LetsTestNow.com that can be useful for finding more testing and lung cancer that can help doctors, nurses learn more about treatment options for their patients.”