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Genetic Characterization of Lung Cancer May Reveal Personalized Treatment Options for Lung Cancer and Mesothelioma

While researchers have continued to identify biomarkers specific to non-squamous cell lung cancer, and even mesothelioma, they have not yet identified a genetic predictor for squamous cell lung cancer. Now, in a landmark study with over 300 authors, researchers believe they have uncovered genetic mutations for identifying and treating squamous cell lung cancer.  The discovery may lead to patient-centric therapies beneficial to squamous cell lung cancer patients as well as pleural mesothelioma patients.

The study, which is part of the Cancer Genome Atlas by the National Institutes of Health to examine genetic abnormalities in cancer, compared tumor cells from 178 squamous cell lung cancer patients with the patients’ normal cells. The goal was to “provide a comprehensive landscape of genomic and epigenomic alterations,” according to the study published in the journal Nature this week.

What the researchers found, according to an article in The New York Times, was that more than 60 percent of the tumors had alterations in genes used to make enzymes that are particularly vulnerable to the new crop of cancer drugs. Many of the drugs, according to the article, are already available or are being tested on other cancers.

“What we found will change the landscape for squamous cell carcinoma. And I think it gives hope to patients,” said lead researcher Dr. Matthew Meyerson of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

The researchers concluded that their findings will “help to facilitate effective personalized therapy for this deadly disease.”

Targeted, personalized therapy based on the genomic analysis of a patient’s unique lung cancer or mesothelioma characteristics optimizes the potential for success of the treatment and offers treatment options that may not otherwise have been considered.

The researchers still have a lot of work to do before their findings translate to patient care.  They must first identify which mutations cause cancer cells to grow, create mouse models to test their theory, determine which drugs successfully target the gene, and finally, conduct clinical trials.

However, the researchers believe that by following a model used by Pfizer during testing, and the ultimate approval, of crizotinib, the work can move fast.  Crizotinib, a drug for the treatment of late-stage, non-small cell lung cancer, entered clinical trials in 2008 and was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2011.

Pleural mesothelioma, an incurable cancer that invades the outer lining of the lungs called the mesothelium, and lung cancer are both linked to exposure to airborne asbestos fibers. Although, according to the researchers, 90 percent of squamous cell lung cancer patients are or were smokers.

Nearly 3,000 Americans die from mesothelioma each year.  Squamous cell lung cancer kills about 50,000 Americans each year.

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Nancy Meredith is a blog and web content writer with more than 20 years of professional experience in the Information Technology industry. She has been writing about Mesothelioma for 7 years. Follow Nancy on Google+

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