Published on August 12, 2020
What is the Potential Role of Epidermal Growth Factor Receptors and Lung Cancer?
Lung cancer continues to be one of the main diseases responsible for cancer-related deaths of both men and women and is especially deadly in its advanced stages. The high mortality rate comes partially from non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), which makes up about 75% of all diagnoses, as well as from a relatively poor understanding of the disease’s pathological mechanisms.
What is an Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor?
According to the National Cancer Institute, the epidermal growth factor receptor helps control cell division and survival. It’s a type of receptor tyrosine kinase (RTK) and is involved in cell signaling pathways that tell cells whether they need to multiply, grow, or limit their division.
Most of the time these receptors allow for a harmonious synchronized process that allows cells to properly replicate and replace themselves as they die off. As happens frequently in the human body, however, mutations occur. Sometimes, these mutations lead to unintended consequences such as ones in the EGFR, which has been linked to the rise of some types of lung cancer, like non-small cell lung cancer NSCLC.1
EGFR Cancer Treatment Options and Updates
Dr. Johnson described two new exciting advancements in the treatment of NSCLC:
- The first was presented at this year’s ASCO virtual conference: “Patients with stage IB–IIIA non-small-cell lung cancer harboring EGFR mutations derive a significant disease-free survival benefit from adjuvant treatment with osimertinib (Tagrisso)” demonstrated by the phase III ADAURA trial.2 The success was met with an almost 80% remission rate for those with the disease. This represents an almost 40% increase over previous treatments like this.
- Second, a new study from China reported that when tumors of NSCLC were isolated to five or fewer spots and then hit with radiation, the EGFR–tyrosine kinase inhibitor effectiveness was prolonged. These inhibitors allow for the targeted slowing of the progression of the disease by preventing rapid and cancerous growth.
Lung Cancer Treatment and Side Effects
Despite the excitement over these recent advances in lung cancer treatment, Dr. Alex Spira from Virginia Cancer Specialist Research Institute spoke of how even very promising drug trials, like that of ADAURA, can present unrealistic expectations of success for a certain type of drug in the real world.
Extraneous variables can sometimes make the success of a lung cancer clinical trial difficult to replicate in real-world conditions. Yet, this should not detract from the encouraging signs coming from this trial. Dr. Spira also spoke of how the side effects presented during a trial can be relatively minor, but as treatment goes on major side effects can drastically affect the quality of life of some patients.
If you are a lung cancer patient and are struggling with the side effects of your treatments, talk to your doctor. There are tools, such as palliative care, that can help reduce the side effects of lung cancer treatment.
Dr. Spira recommended that patients who receive these new cancer drugs talk seriously with their oncologists about potential side effects, especially because each patient’s cancer journey is different.
The Way Forward for Lung Cancer Treatment Options
As more research and a better understanding of how NSCLC progresses, the negative side effects will become more manageable for patients using EGFR–tyrosine kinase inhibitors. However, despite the potential for unintended side effects, the excitement this study has created for oncologists and patients alike cannot be understated.
This, coupled with other ongoing research and trials, leads to more optimism for patients with NSCLC. For such a prevalent disease with a relatively high mortality rate, effective ways of treatment bring hope to those affected by it.
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1Bethune, G., Bethune, D., Ridgway, N., & Xu, Z. (2010). Epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) in lung cancer: an overview and update. Journal of thoracic disease, 2(1), 48–51.
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