Deciding on a Lung Cancer Treatment? Essential Testing for Optimal Care

Deciding on a Lung Cancer Treatment? Essential Testing for Optimal Care from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Erin Schenk, a lung cancer specialist, discusses essential testing patients should undergo to help determine which treatment path may be right for them.

Dr. Erin Schenk is an assistant professor in the division of medical oncology at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Center. Learn more about Dr. Schenk and her lung cancer research, here.

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Dr. Schenk:

Surgery is often a consideration in patients where the cancer is still contained within the lung. Radiation therapy is also a possibility, and then therapies that I give as a medical oncologist include chemotherapy medicines, immunotherapy medicines, and occasionally targeted therapy medicines. A lot of the treatment decisions depend on where the lung cancer is in the lungs and if it’s spread anywhere else.

Whenever a patient is newly diagnosed with lung cancer, there are a number of pieces of information that are necessary to help us determine the best treatment plan for that patient. So, first is imaging. Often, it’s important to find out if they’re locations other than the lung that lung cancer might be located. This includes a CT scan, PET scans, and even MRIs of the head to better understand whether or not the cancer has spread elsewhere.

Oftentimes, imaging, and also biopsies go hand-in-hand. So, what’s very important is that we understand what type of lung cancer a patient is being diagnosed, and we better understand that by getting a tissue sample or a biopsy from a lesion within the body. After we get a biopsy, some of the testing can be done to understand what type of lung cancer a patient is diagnosed with. And in types, we can divide it up into three main types.

So, one is small cell lung cancer, and the other two are under the category of non-small cell lung cancer. And this includes patients who have adenocarcinoma or squamous cell. Both of those are types of non-small cell lung cancer

Genetic testing has become a key feature in the treatment of patients with lung cancer. Now, by and large, most of these are within patients with non-small cell lung cancer who have adenocarcinoma histology. One of the really important pieces of information for me as a medical oncologist are some of the genetic markers or abnormalities that are within the cancer cell. I like to describe this as better understanding the cancer cell’s vulnerabilities because we’re able to determine whether or not certain mutations or fusions which are abnormalities within the cancer cell that have caused them to grow or present.

So, some of the more common, some of the more readily recognized abnormalities we look for are EGFR mutations, ALK fusions, ROS1 fusions, and we also need to look for BRAF mutations as well as abnormalities in RET and MET. There’s a wide variety of different therapies that we can give based on the presence of one of these mutations or fusions. Additionally, now this is whether you have adenocarcinoma or squamous cell lung cancer, both non-small cell lung cancer types.

We also look for PD-L1 expression because the level of PD-L1 expression on cancer cells helps us better understand whether immunotherapy can be used alone or in combination with chemotherapy medicines.

And these tests for mutations, fusions, and PD-L1 status, are often done predominantly in patients who have metastatic disease or disease that has spread outside of the lung. That’s the scenario where we use these therapies.

Genetic testing is very critical in patients who have adenocarcinoma lung cancer that has spread outside of the lungs. What we understand about these mutations and fusion is that often they arise in patients who have never smoked or smoked a very small amount in the distant past and tend to be younger on average. So, usually, the average patient with lung cancer is in their 70s, patients who have a mutation or fusion often are in their 40s or 50s.

And so, getting this additional testing is really important because it can help your cancer doctor and team determine whether or not you’re eligible for targeted therapies which are pill medicines that we can give to help control the cancer that targets your specific cancer vulnerability. I think sometimes the full gamut or the full range of different molecular abnormalities that are tested for occasionally are missed.

And I think if you ask your doctor or your team why only a certain set of mutations or fusions were tested for, I think that would help prompt any discussion with your doctor and cancer team. Sometimes there are technical issues that we run into doing any test. And occasionally it might happen that the biopsy we were able to or your team was able to get on you, wasn’t enough tissue. There’s a significant amount of tissue that’s needed to do all of the necessary molecular testing

So, sometimes, complete molecular testing isn’t done on patients’ samples because there just isn’t enough tissue.

Occasionally, patients will need to get another biopsy to better understand the full range of molecular abnormalities within the cancer cell. Sometimes, we can also do tissue – or excuse me, blood biopsies, so liquid biopsies, that help to look for some of the cancer abnormalities.

Occasionally, we can see them in the blood, and that can give us information as well. And sometimes, there are other more technical reasons as to why your doctor or team did not pursue further testing. I wanna encourage you to ask to better understand why additional testing wasn’t done.

Notable News August 2020

Just when you think science can’t get any cooler, researchers figure out a way to learn more about cancer from dinosaurs. Yes, dinosaurs! Researchers have also found that fewer people are dying from lung cancer, and that the more they learn about immunotherapy the better. There is also a new study warning of a potential cancer risk for older adults.

The study pertains to adults 65 and older and indicates that taking aspirin every day could make cancer worse for older adults, reports While past studies have shown that a daily dose of aspirin could protect older adults from cardiovascular issues, and clinical trials have shown that aspirin may reduce the risk of developing cancer in middle-aged adults, a recent study showed that daily aspirin intake may actually increase the risk of being diagnosed with advanced cancer in older adults. There was a 19 percent higher risk of metastatic cancer and a 22 percent higher risk of an advanced cancer diagnosis. People who are already taking a daily dose of aspirin should not stop doing so and should consult their healthcare providers with any concerns about the study before making any changes to their daily aspirin regimen. Learn more about the results of the study here.

Researchers may have discovered why immunotherapy isn’t effective for some patients, says The treatment, which uses a person’s own immune systems to target cancer cells, doesn’t seem to work so well for young and female patients. A study shows that immunotherapy is less effective in young and female patients because they tend to have strong immune systems that are better at getting rid of tumor cells. That sounds like a good thing, but cancer cells that the immune system can’t easily recognize and get rid of often remain in the body, so immunotherapies are less effective at targeting those cells. Now that researchers know why immunotherapy doesn’t work for some patients, they can use the information to determine how to make treatments more effective for every patient. Find more information about the study here.

Researchers have also been looking for ways to increase the effectiveness of immunotherapies to treat blood cancers, says By combining two types of immunotherapies, researchers found that they become more effective in treating blood cancers such as leukemia. There is also evidence that the new combination of therapies could be a safer option. The researchers are using similar technology used in the immunotherapy known as CAR-T therapy in which T cells are modified. In the new combined therapy, instead of modifying T cells, cells known as natural killer (NK) cells are modified. The CAR cells are also modified to help the NK cells find the tumor cells. The process utilizes the benefits of modifying both types of cells and may reduce the potentially life-threatening side effects of the CAR-T cell therapy which would greatly improve immunotherapy treatments. Read more about the combination of the two immunotherapies here.

Improved therapies are also having an impact on lung cancer mortality rates, reports A new study by researchers at the National Cancer Institute shows that deaths from non-small cell lung cancer, the most common type of lung cancer, have dropped in the United States. The death rates are dropping faster than the cancer is occurring and the extra decline is attributed to therapies, approved in the last ten years, that target the cancer. Find out more about the NSCLC mortality rates here.

We are learning more and more about treating cancer all the time, and sometimes information comes from the most unlikely places, such as dinosaurs, says Researchers have found the malignant bone cancer, osteosarcoma, in the lower leg bone of a Centrosaurus apertus, a plant eating, horned dinosaur that lived in large herds approximately 76 million years ago. The damage to the dinosaur’s bone was first thought to be a fracture, but upon further examination, the cancer was found. Using similar methods to diagnose cancer in humans, researchers discovered that the adult dinosaur had an advanced stage of the cancer and that it may have spread to other parts of the body. However, it is not believed that the cancer is what killed the dinosaur, as evidence showed it died as part of a herd in a flood. Researchers hope that they will be able to better understand diseases today if they are able to understand how they have evolved from the past. Learn more about how the dinosaur’s cancer was diagnosed here. You can even watch a short video about it. It’s super cool!

Learning About Lung Cancer

When it comes to lung cancer, you would be hard-pressed to find someone who didn’t know that it is linked to smoking. If you don’t want lung cancer, you don’t smoke. It’s as simple as that. Or, is it? Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer, but it is not the only cause. Lung cancer is not a simple disease. Lung cancer is complex and misunderstood and underfunded, and it continues to be the leading cause of cancer death. With the number of lung cancer cases on the rise among people who have never smoked, it’s about time we really get to know lung cancer.

Lung Cancer Overview

Lung cancer is the result of abnormal cells growing out of control in the lungs. It is most often caused by smoking, but it can and does occur in people who have never smoked. People of any age can get lung cancer, but it is most likely to occur in adults in their 60s and 70s. Lung cancer is most successfully treated when found early, but because lungs are large, tumors can grow in them for a long time without being detected. Lung cancer can spread and metastasize to other parts of the body, and once lung cancer has spread, it becomes harder to treat. Cancer can spread through tissue, the lymph system, and blood. If the cancer spreads through tissue it moves to nearby areas. If the cancer spreads through the lymph system and the blood, it metastasizes, forming a tumor (metastatic tumor) in another part of the body. The metastatic tumor is the same type of cancer as the original tumor. So if lung cancer spreads to the liver, it is still lung cancer, not liver cancer, and needs to be treated as such. 

There are two main types of lung cancer: small cell and non-small cell. They are defined by the size of the cells when viewed under a microscope. The two types grow differently and are treated differently. Non-small cell lung cancer is the most common lung cancer, making up 85 percent of lung cancers. Small cell lung cancer makes up the other 15 percent, and it grows quickly. Usually by the time it is diagnosed, it has already spread to other areas of the body.

Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

There are several types of non-small cell lung cancer, but the three that are most common are adenocarcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and large cell carcinoma. The most common in the United States is adenocarcinoma. This cancer starts in the cells that line the part of the lung called the alveoli. The alveoli are very small air sacs that are at the end of the respiratory system, where oxygen and carbon dioxide are exchanged in the bloodstream. The alveoli are balloon-shaped and are in clusters throughout the lungs. There are millions of them in the lungs. Squamous cell carcinoma (also called epidermoid carcinoma) makes up about 25 percent of all lung cancers. It forms in the thin, flat cells that line the inside of the lungs. Large cell carcinoma makes up about 10 percent of lung cancer cases, and it can form in any large cells in the lungs.

The less common types of non-small cell lung cancer are: pleomorphic, which is a rare malignant tumor; carcinoid tumor, a slow growing tumor usually found in the gastrointestinal system, but sometimes found in the lungs; salivary gland carcinoma, a rare cancer that forms in the salivary glands, mostly in older people; and unclassified carcinoma, a tumor that can’t be specified because of an insufficient sample or some other reason.

Non-small cell lung cancer has several stages. The stages are determined by the size of the tumor and whether or not the tumor has spread. Non-small cell lung cancer can also come back after it’s been treated. It can come back in the lungs, but can also recur in other parts of the body. The five-year survival rate for people with non-small cell lung cancer is usually between 11 and 17 percent. 

Small Cell Lung Cancer

The two types of small cell lung cancers are small cell carcinoma, called oat cell cancer, and combined small cell carcinoma. Small cell lung cancers usually grow quickly and are very likely to spread, most often to the liver, brain, bones, and adrenal glands. After diagnosis, most people live for up to one year. Less than seven percent survive five years.

Lung Cancer Risk Factors

Risk factors are things that increase your chances of getting cancer. Some risk factors are things you can control and others are not, but it is important to know your risk so you can help prevent the occurrence of cancer or know if you should be screened. The risk factors for lung cancer are:


Most, but not all, cases of lung cancer are caused by cigarette smoking. It is the number one risk factor and when combined with other risk factors, it tends to magnify the risk. Using other tobacco products, such as cigars and pipes, also increases your risk. People who smoke tobacco products are about 15 to 30 times more likely to get lung cancer. Smoking occasionally or a few cigarettes a day also increases the risk. The risk increases the more years you smoke and the more cigarettes smoked each day. Using low-tar or low-nicotine cigarettes does not decrease the risk of lung cancer, but quitting smoking does. People who have quit smoking have a lower risk than if they had continued to smoke, but they still have an increased risk over those who never smoke.

Secondhand Smoke

Secondhand smoke can be just as dangerous as smoking when it comes to lung cancer risk. When you breathe secondhand smoke into your lungs it is just like you are smoking. While the doses are smaller, you are exposed to the same cancer-causing toxins as if you were smoking. 

Radon Gas and Other Substances

Radon is a radioactive, naturally-occurring, colorless, odorless and tasteless gas that causes approximately 20,000 cases of lung cancer each year. Radon often gets trapped in houses and can build up over time. There are other substances, often found in workplaces, that when exposed to them, also put people at risk for lung cancer, including asbestos, arsenic, diesel exhaust, tar and soot, nickel, beryllium, cadmium, and some silicas and chromiums. While these substances can cause lung cancer in those who have never smoked, the risk of lung cancer is higher for people who smoke in addition to being exposed to the substances. Exposure to radiation after an atomic bomb explosion also increases lung cancer risk.

Personal or Family History

People who have a personal or family history of lung cancer are at increased risk. If you have already had lung cancer you are at risk of developing another lung cancer. If you have a close family member with lung cancer, your risk of getting lung cancer is also increased, but that is largely because smoking tends to run in families. Even if you don’t smoke, but live in a home with a smoker, your risk is increased due to secondhand smoke exposure. There is also growing research that shows that genetics could play a role through inherited gene mutations (more about that later).

Radiation Therapy

Patients who have had radiation therapy in their chest to treat certain cancers, such as breast cancer and Hodgkin’s lymphoma, are at higher risk for lung cancer: the higher the dose, the higher the risk. Patients who have received radiation therapy, and who also smoke, have a higher risk than non-smokers. Imaging tests, such as CT scans, also expose patients to radiation and can increase lung cancer risk.

Air Pollution

People who live in areas with higher levels of air pollution have a higher risk of lung cancer. The quality of the air you breathe matters.


There is not a lot known about how diet affects lung cancer risk, but scientists do know that smokers who take beta-carotene supplements have an increased risk of cancer. Also, people exposed to arsenic in drinking water, often from private wells, have an increased risk of cancer.


People who have the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) may have twice the risk of lung cancer than those without HIV. However, because people with HIV have higher smoking rates than people without HIV, it is hard to know whether the increased risk is from the HIV infection or the cigarette exposure.

Preventing Lung Cancer

It is possible to reduce your risk of lung cancer through prevention because so many of the risk factors for lung cancer are environmental or lifestyle-related. The best ways to reduce your lung cancer risk are:

No Smoking

Not smoking is the number one way to prevent lung cancer. People who already smoke can lower their risk by quitting smoking, and smokers who have been treated for lung cancer can reduce their risk of another lung cancer by quitting smoking. The amount your risk lowers when you quit smoking depends on how long and how much you smoked, and the number of years since you quit. The risk of lung cancer decreases 30 to 60 percent after someone has quit for ten years. However, the risk will never be as low as if you had never smoked in the first place.

Reduce Environmental and Workplace Exposure

Laws that help protect workers from exposure to lung cancer causing substances in the workplace can help reduce the risk of lung cancer. In addition, laws that prevent secondhand smoke help lower lung cancer risk. Reducing exposure to radon gas can also reduce the risk of lung cancer. Reducing radon in homes can be done by taking such measures as sealing basements.

There are other means of possibly preventing lung cancer, though there is no clear evidence that they will specifically decrease the occurrence of lung cancer. They include:


There are studies that show that people who eat large amounts of fruits and vegetables are less likely to get lung cancer than people who eat small quantities. However, studies also show that people who are inclined to eat a lot of fruits and vegetables are less likely to smoke, so it is not known whether the reduced cancer risk is from eating fruits and vegetables or from not smoking. 

Physical Activity

The same is true with physical activity. Studies show that more physically active people are less likely to get lung cancer. However, non-smokers tend to be more physically active than smokers, so it’s hard to tell whether the cancer risk is from the physical activity or from not smoking.

The Role of Genetics

Aside from the environmental risk factors, how can we account for the roughly 20 percent of people who die from lung cancer who are never smokers? Lung cancer in never smokers is on the rise in both the United States and Europe so researchers have started looking more closely at a genetic link to lung cancer. It’s estimated that about eight percent of lung cancers are hereditary. You can’t inherit cancer, but you can inherit a likelihood to get cancer based on the make up of your genes. Most lung cancers occur because of gene mutations that happen during a person’s lifetime, like when they are exposed to carcinogens, such as tobacco smoke or radiation. These are called somatic, and they can’t be passed down through families. However, there are hereditary mutations passed down through families called germline, and having these can increase your risk of getting cancer. Scientists have begun to identify the link between some of the mutations and lung cancer. There is a lot more to learn about the role of genetics in lung cancer, but researchers do know that young women never smokers are the most likely to have lung cancer caused by a genetic predisposition. They also know that people that get cancer as a result of a hereditary mutation are more likely to get non-small cell lung cancer.

Lung Cancer Screening

The best chances of treating many cancers come from early diagnosis and treatment. That is why it is important for people with the highest risk factors to be screened before they have symptoms. People who should be screened for lung cancer are between 55 and 80 years old, currently smoke or quit within the last 15 years, and have a 30 pack year history of smoking. A 30 pack year history means they smoked one pack a day for 30 years or two packs a day for 15 years. Often, by the time someone has lung cancer symptoms, the cancer has already spread. There are three types of screening tests for lung cancer: the low-dose spiral CT scan (LDCT), also called a low-dose helical CT scan, chest X-ray and, sputum cytology, which examines the mucus from the lungs.

Of the three screenings, only the LDCT has shown in a trial that it can decrease the risk of dying from lung cancer. The trial studied heavy smokers, aged 55-74 years, who had smoked at least one pack of cigarettes per day for 30 years or more, and heavy smokers who had quit smoking within the past 15 years. The study found that LDCT screenings were better than chest x-rays at detecting lung cancer in the early stages. The study also showed that LDCT screenings reduced the risk of dying from lung cancer. The study did not find that chest x-ray and sputum cytology screenings decreased the risk of dying from lung cancer. 

While screenings can save lives, there are some risks. It is important to remember that there is no guarantee that finding lung cancer will improve your health or help you live longer. Also, the tests can be wrong. Sometimes cancer that is there won’t be detected; other times screenings can lead to a false alarm that could result in an unnecessary, invasive procedure. Or, screenings can lead to overdiagnosis, which means that cancer cells that may never cause harm to your body and don’t require treatment, get detected. The LDCT scans also expose the patient to radiation. The risks of screening should be considered and discussed with your doctor. Hopefully, in the future there will be better screening methods for lung cancer. There are researchers looking into more effective, less invasive, and less expensive screenings, such as breath and saliva analysis.

Signs and Symptoms

Lung cancer does not always have symptoms and when it does, the symptoms are often very general and similar to things like a respiratory infection, that don’t seem serious. Often, by the time someone has gone to the doctor the cancer has already spread. When this happens, other symptoms beyond what are listed here could be present. However, any symptoms should be checked with your doctor. Lung cancer symptoms include:

  • A cough that doesn’t go away or worsens
  • Chest pain, discomfort
  • Frequent chest infections, such as bronchitis or pneumonia
  • Unexplained headaches
  • Trouble breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Hoarseness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Feeling very tired
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Swelling in the face or the veins in the neck
  • Bone pain
  • Coughing up blood

Lung Cancer Diagnosis

There are several test options used to diagnose lung cancer. Tests can include a physical exam and patient history, lab tests, chest x-ray, CT scan, examination of mucus from the lungs, and thoracentesis, which involves checking for cancer in fluid removed from the lungs.

After initial testing, if cancer is suspected, a biopsy is done. There are several possible types of biopsy, and each individual case will determine which type of biopsy is necessary. The biopsies range in level of invasiveness from insertion of a needle or a scope to surgical procedures and lymph node removal. There are also lab tests used to test for lung cancer. Some lab tests check sample tissue, blood, or body fluids for indications of cancer while others look for cancer markers, called antigens. The markers can sometimes help determine the type of cancer.

Staging Lung Cancer

When lung cancer is diagnosed, then the stage of cancer is determined. The stage is the size of the tumor, and whether the cancer has spread within the lung or in other parts of the body. Sometimes the staging is done during diagnosis, but if not, other tests are used to identify what stage the cancer is in, which helps determine a treatment method. 

Stages of Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

Non-small cell lung cancer staging is very complex, and many of the stages have several subgroups with specific conditions based on the size of the tumor, whether or not the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, whether the cancer has spread to the opposite side of the chest from the original tumor, whether or not there are additional tumors, and whether or not the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. A very simplified version of non-small cell lung cancer staging looks like this:

Stage I: The cancer has not spread to the lymph nodes.

Stage II: The cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes.

Stage III: The cancer has spread to the lymph nodes and other parts of the surrounding area.

Stage IV: The cancer has spread to other parts of the body. 

Stages of Small Cell Lung Cancer

Small cell lung cancer has two stages:

Limited Stage Small Cell Lung Cancer: The cancer is in the lung but may have spread to the area between the lungs or to the lymph nodes above the collarbone. 

Extensive-Stage Small Cell Lung Cancer: – The cancer has spread beyond the lungs to other areas of the body.


As with other cancers, lung cancer is often treated with a combination of procedures. There are ten types of standard treatment for non-small cell lung cancer. They include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, immunotherapy, laser therapy, photodynamic therapy (PDT), cryosurgery, electrocautery, and watchful waiting. Small-cell lung cancer is treated with 

surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, laser therapy and endoscopic stent placement. Several different treatment options may be used depending on the type and stage of the cancer. There are four types of surgery used to treat lung cancer. They range from removing a small section of the lung lobe to removing one whole lung. There are, of course, risks and side effects to treatment options that patients should discuss with their doctors, and patients should also be aware of the latest treatment options available. Researchers are always looking for new, more effective treatment options through things like studies and clinical trials.

Clinical Trials

If you are diagnosed with lung cancer, you might want to consider participating in a clinical trial. There are trials available all over the country. Clinical trials help determine whether new treatments may be better than the standard treatments. The trials help to advance the treatment of cancer. Each clinical trial will have its own requirements. There are usually trials available to patients in any stage of treatment. Information about available trials can be found on the National Cancer Institute website,

Recovery and Survival

The chance of recovery from lung cancer depends on several factors, including the type of cancer, the stage the cancer is in, whether the cancer has spread, whether the patient has signs or symptoms, and the patient’s overall health. However, more than half of people with lung cancer die within a year of diagnosis. This is likely because only 16 percent of lung cancers are diagnosed at an early stage. The lung cancer five-year survival rate is 18.6 percent, which is much, much lower than other cancers, such as colorectal cancer, which has a five-year survival rate of 64.5 percent. The breast and prostate cancer survival rates are even higher.

Lung Cancer Stigma

There are some that believe that lung cancer survival rates are so much lower than other cancers because of a stigma attached to the disease. When it comes to lung cancer, people tend to assume that it is a self-inflicted disease. The stigma can affect patient care and funding which could lead to advances in research. Some patients have reported feeling guilt and shame for having lung cancer, and some said that they delayed seeing their doctor about their lung cancer symptoms because of the stigma attached. Other research has shown that when patients do seek treatment, some doctors were less likely to refer the patients for further treatment if they had lung cancer rather than another cancer. Funding is also negatively affected by the stigma. Despite lung cancer killing more people than breast, prostate and colon cancers combined, federal and private funding are both way behind what other cancers receive for research. Only six percent of the federal money spent on cancer research is spent on lung cancer.

There is evidence that the lung cancer stigma is starting to change, as are the cases of lung cancer. With 60 to 65 percent of all new lung cancer cases being diagnosed in people who have never smoked or are former smokers, lung cancer can no longer be considered a simply a smoker’s disease.


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What You Need to Know About Lung Cancer Research

What You Need to Know About Lung Cancer Research from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

As a lung cancer patient, why should you stay informed about research? Expert Dr. Heather Wakelee reviews what patients need to know.

Heather Wakelee, MD is Professor of Medicine in the Division of Oncology at Stanford University. More about this expert here.

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Dr. Wakelee:

So, there’s so much happening in lung cancer research now, it is hard to really narrow it down to one thing to be specifically excited about. Where we have made so much progress in particular is with target treatments, and also with immune therapy. So, when we think about the targeted treatments, it’s only been about 15 years since we first learned about drugs that would specifically target the EGFR gene mutations.

And when we found a tumor with an EGFR gene mutation, we then had a medication we could give that would work better than chemo. And now we have five EGFR drugs available in the US. And then we found out about this ALK gene mutation that happen in some tumors. Now we have five drugs that work there. And the with ROS1, that was found, and now we’ve got four drugs that work there that are approved.

And it seems that we keep learning about more and more mutations, so those are mutations called NTRK and BRAF. And with all of those, we now have drug treatments, so it’s been very, very rapid discovery of specific gene mutations and drugs that work for that. And I think we’re continuing to see new targets being identified and new drugs being found.

And also, when those drugs stop working, better understanding why and what we can do to help them work longer, or what we can give next. So, that’s a very active area of research that’s exciting. And then we have the immune therapy. So, the ones that are available so far are drugs that block either PD-1 or PD-L1, and that's one of the really important stop signals for the immune system.

And tumors can use that stop signal to block an immune reaction to a tumor. But if you block that stop signal then the immune system can attack the cancer. So, that's really important, these PD-1, PD-L1 drugs.

We also know about another stop signal called CTLA-4, and there’re drugs that block that as well. And now, where there’s a ton of research is in trying to work with other parts of the immune system, other either pro-immune or anti-immune signals, and changing those in a way where we can improve the ability of the immune system to find the cancer cells and attack the cancer cells.

So, there are many, many studies being done with drugs, and especially in combinations, trying to get that response against the cancer from the immune system to be even stronger. And that’s, I think, where we’re making the most exciting headway now.

New and Improved Lung Cancer Treatment Options

New and Improved Lung Cancer Treatment Options from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Are there new lung cancer treatment options that you should know about? Expert Dr. Heather Wakelee reviews the latest research. Looking for more information? Download the Find Your Voice Resource Guide here.

Heather Wakelee, MD is Professor of Medicine in the Division of Oncology at Stanford University. More about this expert here.

See More From the The Pro-Active Lung Cancer Patient Toolkit

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Critical Questions to Ask Your Lung Cancer Doctor


Dr. Wakelee:

So, the treatment of lung cancer has been changing very, very quickly. We’ve had a lot of new options that have become available in the last few years, and there’re new ones coming along all the time. When I started treating lung cancer, which was a number of years ago, we were able to treat and help people.

But our only real option when the cancer was metastatic was chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is still an important part of treatment for many people, but now we have other options. So, starting about 15 years ago, people were able to identify that some tumors had specific genetic changes. We also call these molecular changes, or gene mutations, or just mutations in the tumor. They have a lot of different names.

But when we do find them, these are things like EGFR or ALK or ROS or BRAF or MET, we actually have different treatment options that only work for tumors that have those specific genetic changes, and don’t work in tumors that don’t have those. So, when we talk about genetic changes a lot of people think, “Oh, that’s something that I’ve inherited.”

These are not things that are inherited. This is not something that’s in the whole person. It’s just in the tumor. So, it’s a mutation that happened in the DNA of the cell, and that cell then became the cancer. And depending on what that mutation or mutations are, we still can have chemotherapy, and that can work.

But for specific ones, and specifically EGFR, ALK, ROS, BRAF, we know that there are pill drugs and oral medication that actually is gonna be better than chemo, at least for a period of time, if a cancer has that specific mutation.

So, it’s really, really important to figure that out. It’s not something a doctor can sort out just by looking at the patient or looking at the tumor under the microscope. We have to do special testing, looking at the tumor DNA.

And we now have ways of looking for those mutations, not just in the tumor tissue, but also sometimes with blood. So, we can draw a blood test and look for those as well when there’s a tumor that’s shedding the DNA. So, it’s really important to think about that. And we now have a whole host of medications that we can offer people when we the find these mutations that we didn’t used to have, even a few years ago.

And, actually, if you think back over the last five years, we’ve had new drugs approved, a few of them every year, for these specific gene mutation tumors, so that’s really, really exciting. The other thing that’s changed dramatically just in the last five years is what we call immune therapy.

So, when we think about the different types of treatment, chemotherapy works by poisoning DNA. And in order to make a new cell, you have to make new DNA. Tumors are doing that more than a lot of normal tissue, and so we’re able to give chemotherapy and specifically hurt tumors and not the rest of the person very much.

With the targeted treatments where we find a gene target and where there’s a gene mutation in a tumor, those are medications that specifically hit that altered gene, that altered protein made by the gene. And then they work really, really well. What immune therapy does is it actually changes the way your body’s own immune system interacts with the tumor. So, we have a lot of types of immune cells, but the ones that are involved in really fighting the cancer directly are called T cells.

And so, normally, a T cell would recognize something that’s foreign like an abnormal-looking cell that’s a cancer, and attack it. But we have a lot of different systems in our body that stop the T cells from recognizing normal tissue and attacking it.

And one of the best systems for that is something called PD-1 and PD-L1. And so, if you have a T cell and it sees a PD-L1 signal on tissue, it assumes that that tissue was normal tissue and it doesn’t attack. But if you can hide that PD-L1 signal, then if it’s a T cell, a part of the immune system comes in and doesn’t see the PD-L1, it doesn’t get the stop signal. It’s not told to not attack. So, it could attack the tumor better.

And I’m not describing it well because it’s so complicated. There are a lot of different factors that help a T cell know whether to attack or not to attack. But, again, one of these key stop signals is the PD-1, PD-L1 interaction. And so, scientists were able to develop medications that can block PD-1 or PD-L1. And when those medications are in the body, if a tumor is using that particular stop signal as a way to hide from the immune system, when you give the medication that blocks it then the tumor is no longer hiding.

And then the immune system, those T cells, can come in and attack. So, these immune treatments, and there are now a lot, and so these are drugs, like pembrolizumab, also called Keytruda; nivolumab, which also called Opdivo; durvalumab, which is called IMFINZI. And there are many, many others. Those medications have now been shown to really, really help to fight cancer, particularly when the tumor is using that PD-L1 signal. But they can also be combined with chemotherapy and then they work even if there’s not a lot of PD-L1 in the tumor. So, again, it’s a very complex story.

But where we’ve seen dramatic improvements in treatment is we have targeted treatments when the genes are – there are specific genes mutating in tumors. We have immune therapy, which worked for a lot of other people. And sometimes when there’s also gene mutation, but not always, we still have chemotherapy. And then there’s ongoing research with a lot of different medications. Many of them are focusing on better ways to get the immune system to work against cancers beyond what we can already do.

Being Empowered: The Benefits of Learning About Your Lung Cancer

The Benefits of Learning About Your Lung Cancer from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

As a lung cancer patient, why should you stay informed about research? Expert Dr. Heather Wakelee provides her advice. Find your voice with the Pro-Active Patient Toolkit Resource Guide, available here.

Heather Wakelee, MD is Professor of Medicine in the Division of Oncology at Stanford University. More about this expert here.

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Dr. Wakelee:

So, as a patient living with lung cancer, you have many options today that you wouldn’t have had 5, 10, 15 years ago, which is wonderful.

Because things are changing so quickly, it’s very hard for physicians and other care providers to keep up with all of the latest information. It’s especially hard if you are seeing an oncologist who not only has to keep up with everything that’s happening in lung cancer, but also everything that’s happening in breast cancer, and colon cancer, and melanoma, and so many other diseases.

And so, while everybody does their best to know the latest and greatest in research, and all of the new drug approvals, sometime that’s just possible. So, as a patient, you wanna make sure that you, focused on your particular disease, are up-to-date on what you can possibly know about the best ways to treat your disease, so you can talk to your physician and make sure that he or she also knows about those, and is using that latest information to help you get the best possible care.

There’s also a lot of ongoing clinical trials. And being able to ask about those and know what may or may not make sense for you, is also a reasonable thing to be able to talk with your doctor about.

And sometimes that involves continuing your care with your doctor, but also getting another opinion, particularly at a research center where they might have access to more trials, new drugs, some of which might be better than what’s available, and some of which might not be. But without talking to people about that, you’re not gonna be able to know that.

And that’s why it’s really important to do what you can or your family can do to be educated and know what is going on in the field of lung cancer, so you can get the best possible care.

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Diagnosed with Lung Cancer? Why You Should Seek a Second Opinion from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Should you seek a second opinion? Lung cancer expert Dr. Heather Wakelee explains when to consider seeing a specialist. Looking for more information? Download the Find Your Voice Resource Guide here.

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Dr. Wakelee:

So, when facing a new diagnosis of lung cancer, one of the questions that often comes up is whether one should go get a second opinion or see a lung cancer specialist. And that is a question that obviously is gonna vary quite a bit by where a person is, where they’re getting seen, and what they’re facing.

I think a time that it’s really critical would be if someone has a Stage III lung cancer or told it might be Stage III. That’s a really good time to get a second opinion and make sure that the group that is taking care of you has had a multidisciplinary discussion. And when I say multidisciplinary, I mean, a thoracic surgeon, a radiation oncologist, and a medical oncologist have altogether looked at what’s going on with the particular case of that patient to decide up front what’s gonna be the best approach.

Because sometimes surgery is the right first approach. And sometimes it’s not. And sometimes radiation’s important, and sometimes it’s not.

So, it’s really critical to have a big team looking at what’s going on for Stage III. And if you’re in a hospital that really doesn’t see a lot of Stages III lung cancer that might be a good time to think about getting a second opinion outside of where you’re being treated.

I think, otherwise, if someone is newly diagnosed and we know the cancer is early stage where surgery might be involved, it’s good to check in that the surgeons who would be doing your operation are surgeons who know about lung cancer and have done lung cancer surgeries frequently. Sometimes in smaller hospitals there are surgeons who do both heart and lung surgery. And we know that the outcomes are not always quite as good in that setting.

Sometimes there’s no choice, and that’s okay. But if there is an opportunity to talk to a dedicated thoracic surgeon who’s used to doing lung cancer surgery, that’s another good time to get a second opinion. When we’re dealing with a more advanced stage of metastatic lung cancer, if someone is newly diagnosed and their tumor ends up having an unusual gene mutation or translocation.

And the molecular changes in lung cancer are really important to know about. And things like EGFR and ALK and RAS, where most medical oncologists will be familiar. But there’re others, like BRAF and RET and MET, and those can really change treatment outcomes as well, but not everybody who sees lots of different kinds of cancer as an oncologist will know everything there is to know about those.

So, if you have an unusual gene mutation, that’s another good time to get a second opinion with someone who’s a dedicated lung cancer expert. And usually those folks are at the larger academic medical centers, so oftentimes in cities, or affiliated with universities.

Another time is if someone does have a tumor with an EGFR, ALK, or one of the more common mutations, but the main drugs have stopped working, that’s often a time where someone who has specialized just in lung cancer might have some other options.

It’s also something to think through when someone’s newly diagnosed, if they know that their doctor has looked at the immune markers like PD-L1, and looked at the genetic changes in the tumor, and has a clear plan that’s gonna involve chemotherapy, or chemotherapy plus radiation, or chemotherapy plus immune therapy.

Then there might not be something that’s gonna be different in an academic center. But before you start treatment, if you’re still feeling okay, don’t have to start treatment tomorrow, and wanna know maybe that there’re clinical trial options, that’s another time to think about getting a second opinion. And a lot of academic centers will work to get people in very, very quickly if they knew they’ve just been diagnosed and they really need to get started on treatment right away.

Diagnosed with Lung Cancer? An Expert Outlines Key Steps

Diagnosed with Lung Cancer? An Expert Outlines Key Steps from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Heather Wakelee outlines key steps that patients should consider taking following a lung cancer diagnosis. Find your voice with the Pro-Active Patient Toolkit Resource Guide, available here.

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Dr. Wakelee:

For a patient who is facing a new diagnosis of lung cancer, there are a lot of really important things to keep in mind. But really thinking about top three of them, the first one is that you wanna know what stage the cancer is. And when we talk about stage, we’re talking about how far the caner has spread. So, sometimes a cancer is found at Stage I when it’s still just a mass, a tumor in the lung.

Stage II means that it’s spread into some of the lymph nodes that are still in the lung. And for Stage I and II, for most people, we know that that means surgery is the treatment option. The next stage is Stage III, and that means that the cancer has started to spread into these lymph nodes.

And lymph nodes are just normal part of the body, but it’s a place cancer often will go. And if it goes into the lymph nodes in the center of the chest, called the mediastinum, then it becomes Stage III. And that changes the treatment. It’s usually more complicated. You wouldn’t normally just have surgery. There’s still sometimes surgery, and sometimes radiation, and almost always some sort of treatment like chemotherapy.

But it’s very complex. And usually we recommend that if you know it’s Stage III that you have a team that’s surgeons and radiation oncologists and medical oncologists to think about it. And then Stage IV means that’s it’s spread. So, knowing – meaning that it’s spread in a way where treatments are gonna involve chemotherapy or targeted treatment or immune therapy, and sometimes radiation, but not normally surgery.

And so, because it’s such a big difference in how things are treated based on stage, that’s the most important question to talk to your treating team about. The next most important question, assuming that it’s metastatic or Stage IV because that’s the most common way that we find lung cancer.

If it is metastatic or Stage IV then you wanna find out well, are there any markers, any tumor markers or cancer genetic changes, that are gonna help pick the treatment. And when I say that, I’m talking about gene changes in specific genes. The ones we think about a lot is something called EGFR, or epidermal growth factor receptor; or ALK, which is A-L-K; KRAS. There’s a whole list of them. But the most important are EGFR, ALK, and ROS, and BRAF.

And why that’s so critical is that if you have metastatic cancer and the tumor has one of those mutations then instead of chemotherapy, the best treatments are gonna be pill drugs, so basically, medications that you take my mouth. And we know that when the tumor has one of those specific mutations, the pill drugs are gonna be more likely to shrink the tumor and have that last longer. So, that’s why it’s so important to know about that. And then the other thing that we look at a lot is something called PD-L1, and that helps us determine about the immune therapy.

So, there’s been a lot on the news about this new class of treatments called immune therapy. And those can work for a lot of different people with a lot of different kinds of cancers. But they don’t always work. And this PD-L1 test can help us know a little bit more about when it might be the best choice, or when it might be something we can add to chemotherapy. And so, getting that information back is important, too.

And I’m gonna add a little bit extra to that. A lot of times that PD-L1 result will come back faster than the gene changes of the tumor, the molecular changes to the tumor. And it’s important to have the whole picture, so you wanna know not just what stage, not just the PD-L1, but also if there are any gene changes in the tumor, so that the best treatment choice can be talked about with the care team.

Are Clinical Trials Too Risky? A Lung Cancer Expert Reviews the Facts.

Are Clinical Trials Too Risky? A Lung Cancer Expert Reviews the Facts. from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Some patients fear that clinical trials may be too experimental and risky. Dr. Martin Edelman outlines the clinical trial process and addresses myths surrounding trials. Want to learn more? Download the Program Resource Guide here.

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Here’s the last one that I have on my list here. Clinical trials are experimental and risky.

Dr. Edelman:

Yeah. Well, so is the rest of life. So, there generally – is there risk? Yes. Essentially, every patient is always a trial because we for the most part don’t – even in the disease states where we have very active treatment – so, let’s say – for example, we were talking about the EGFR mutation. So, we have excellent drugs. We have a drug now, osimertinib – outstanding drug, easy to take, low risk of side effects.

The earlier generations – there was a lot of rash, diarrhea. That’s been pretty much done away with. But on average, patients benefit from this drug for about a year and a half.

So, that’s not great if you’re 40 or 50 years old. You want to do better. So, what are our current studies? Well, we’re looking – we’re re-addressing a question that we thought had been answered, but really it wasn’t – about, well, what’s the value of chemotherapy plus this drug? What about the value of other drugs?

So, we can’t promise anybody anything, but our current treatments are still not good enough. There are certain diseases, let’s say Hodgkin’s disease, where you know you’re gonna cure almost all the patients up front or testicular cancer, etcetera, where – again, but thanks to trials, clinical trials, we now are at that stage. We’re not there yet in lung cancer, and the reality is is every patient should really be on a study. I think it’s – and we have this problem now in that our studies have also become far more complicated to enter people in because there are many more variables one has to look at it. What’s the molecular background of the tumor? How many prior therapies?

The condition of the patient, their organ function, etcetera – and the regulatory burden has become much, much greater. But clinical patients are in clinical trials. Let’s look at the question. Are they risky? Well, everything is risky, but we do a lot to manage that risk. Patients who are in studies are observed more closely. We have to. It’s the law. There’s frequently additional personnel assigned. They’re usually getting standard of care plus a new treatment or a new treatment followed by the standard of care or some variation of that.

They’re observed, like I said, much more carefully than we would otherwise. And so, I think actually patients on trials generally will do better, and we actually have evidence. Multiple individuals have looked at this – everything from first-in-man trials or early dose escalation studies, controlled studies – that show that patients, even those on the control arm, generally do better than similar types of patients who are not treated on studies because we just are more careful.

And the physician who participates in trials is generally someone who has a greater knowledge of the disease.

The Truth About Managing Lung Cancer Treatment Side Effects

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Let’s talk a little bit about some of the concerns that patients have about the side effects. Let’s see: Side effects are unavoidable.

Dr. Edelman:

Well, that’s not true. As I said, what were the side effects? If you go back a couple decades and you ask patients what were they concerned about, many of them were concerned about nausea and vomiting. And that is largely a thing of the past. Many patients will still have some queasiness with treatment, but even our most nausea-producing drugs – we really do have outstanding drugs for the prevention of that. You have to use them. You have to take them.

It’s very important to give them appropriately. There are very excellent guidelines that are out there. Sometimes, patients are still undertreated, no question about that. Not every drug has industry strong backing. There’s one drug – for example, olanzapine, (Zyprexa) was actually developed as an antipsychotic, and I always tell the patients, “No, I don’t think you’re crazy.”

But it’s at a lower dose, and we have excellent, excellent evidence that that drug given for a few evenings after chemotherapy is extraordinarily effective along with the other drugs in preventing nausea and vomiting. So, that’s one thing.

Hair loss is still somewhat inevitable with certain drugs – the taxanes. But many of our regimens don’t cause hair loss.

Or as I tell folks – only you and your hairdresser will know for sure because its hair on the pillow, but the average person won’t pick you out of a crowd. Those are big concerns still. There still are potentially life-threatening effects from chemotherapy, and we spend a lot of time educating people about that. But those are not inevitable, and it’s actually a minority of patients in lung cancer.

One should not confuse – there are different malignancies. Still, the treatments for say leukemia, though even that’s changing, can be extraordinarily toxic or the bone marrow transplant patients. Many, not just lung cancer, but in the other diseases as well – many of the things that people attribute to the drugs are more due to the disease. So, I always say, “The greatest failure and side effects to the drugs are they don’t work well enough because the side effects of the disease can be considerable.” So, that’s the bigger issue. The immunotherapeutic drugs have a rather interesting set of side effects.

They are clearly initially or frequently better tolerated than the older cytotoxics, which still have an extremely valuable place in the treatment and cure of lung cancer. The immunotherapeutics have clearly been quite beneficial, but their side effects can be subtle and far less predictable and can be very severe. Virtually, any organ in the body can be affected by this. We like to say, “If it ends in ‘itis,’ you can get it from immunotherapeutics.”

So, there are lots of side effects, no question. But they can be managed. They can be prevented. They can be treated. Sometimes, we have to abandon a drug. So, people who get severe – what we call immunotherapy-related adverse events – may not be able to continue on their drugs. But even that is not necessarily always the case.


This next one really gets to the heart of the doctor-patient relationship. I shouldn’t share my side effects with my healthcare team because I don’t want them to stop my treatment routine.

Dr. Edelman:

Well, you can’t prevent the side effects if you don’t know about them. And I always would tell patients, I said, “You know, if you’re having a problem, please don’t call me at 4:00 on Friday afternoon. I’m gonna end up sending you to the emergency room, which I may anyway.” But a lot of times, we can solve certain things over the phone. There are a lot of side effects that can be treated and particularly if one is aware early on. So, yeah, you should share the side effects because how’s somebody gonna know how to deal with them?

Now, the problem we run into sometimes is in a population that’s on average 60s and 70s, could be younger. There’re lots of things that can be just part of ordinary life. Everybody gets headaches, back pain, etcetera, etcetera.

We have to treat those sometimes and evaluate them much more aggressively because of the possibility of them being related to disease or drug, but it helps to sort it out. You can’t be too blasé about it because sometimes things need to be looked at very urgently, particularly with immunotherapeutic drugs. Some of the side effects that can be severe can sometimes be very subtle in their onset.

Trustworthy Resources to Help You Learn More About Lung Cancer

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Let’s talk a little bit about health literacy. What would you suggest patients use for online resources? What are good resources?

Dr. Edelman:

So, there are some excellent resources. The International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer has resources for patients. The National Coalition of Comprehensive Cancer Center Network (NCCN) has resources. American Society of Clinical Oncology has resources. So, those or American Cancer Society. So, there are some really reliable sources out there. And there’s a great deal that’s very unreliable – people’s Facebook pages. I’ve seen this.


It’s a big place.

Dr. Edelman:

Everybody always – and I think it’s important for people to understand. There will be people who will get something and have a fantastic response. I’ve used anecdotes.

The anecdotes I’ve used are to illustrate the potential hope of benefit. They’re not exceptions to the rule anymore. They’re the good case scenarios. I could have just as many anecdotes of people who didn’t benefit and stuff. And I think it is important going into this – and that’s why we are reassessing patients constantly and getting repeat scans because we don’t necessarily know always – even if something’s 90 percent effective, it means 10 percent of the time it’s not.

And each patient – we’re getting better at individualizing and personalizing therapy, but we’re not perfect yet. And we probably never will be. So, there will always be anecdotes. I think what’s – as a friend of mine puts it – the plural of anecdotes is not data. When I say, “Well, chemoimmunotherapy works.” It’s not because I have anecdotes of that, though anecdotes illustrate the magnitude of benefit.

I have data that shows that the chemoimmunotherapy regimen was compared to chemotherapy and was clearly and unequivocally superior. When I give a statistic that 60 percent of patients, 65 percent, can benefit from those types of regimens. That’s based upon prospective randomized control trials.

Is Lung Cancer Treatment Effective in Older Patients?

Is Lung Cancer Treatment Effective in Older Patients? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Lung cancer expert Dr. Martin Edelman tackles common misconceptions about the effectiveness of lung cancer treatment in elderly patients. Want to learn more? Download the Program Resource Guide here.

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How about this one? Treatment is not effective in older patients.

Dr. Edelman:

Treatment is highly effective in older patients. It’s interesting. So, we had long arguments about, when I started in this field, whether treatment ever worked, and there were a number of studies that showed that chemotherapy – that one platinum was better – what’s called a platinum-based agent – was better than no therapy.

And then that two drugs were better than one drug. And people would say, “Oh, well, that doesn’t work in the elderly. And they should only get one drug.” And that’s because, I guess, their burning bush on the lawn told them this. And the fact is is that then got evaluated in a controlled trial, a very nicely done study by my European colleagues. But what was crucial was that they used somewhat lower doses of chemotherapy, a little bit different schedule of chemotherapy, and it was clearly superior to a single agent. And those were even days before immunotherapeutics and these targeted agents. So, many patients will benefit. You just have to be aware of certain basic principles in geriatric medicine as well as basic principles of lung cancer care.

So, first off, if the patient is elderly but their tumor is characterized by a driver mutation, they get one of the so-called targeted agents. And these are these days very non-toxic, easy to take, and highly effective.

Patients – many are going to be eligible for immunotherapy either as a single agent or combined with chemotherapy. Chemotherapy drugs could certainly be cut in their doses and still preserve much activity and be done safely.

I had a woman with small cell lung cancer. This is now about a year and a half ago or so. And she’s in her 80s. And she came to me because she was told – oh, just sorta get your affairs in order. And her disease was what we term an extensive small cell. The staging system’s a little bit different, but she didn’t have a really vast bulk of disease. And we treated her with standard chemotherapy drugs but at somewhat lower doses and some careful TLC and some other supportive things like growth factors.

She got all of her treatment on an outpatient basis, had an excellent response. We used radiation later to consolidate her treatment, and I see her back every couple of months. I wouldn’t say that she’s necessarily cured of her disease, but she does yoga every day. She lives a full life. She sees her grandchildren. And she’s, I think – I wanna say 83-84 years old. I think she’s quite grateful for that. It’s not the numerical age.

The flipside is if somebody’s 50 years old and they’re extremely ill when they come in, then one has to be very cautious about what one does. We used to say that those patients who come in who are severely impaired should simply get supportive care and hospice services.

And actually, how would I put it? Our lives have gotten a little bit more difficult lately because as things have gotten better for patients – because I can’t necessarily say that as much because some patients may be very susceptible to the effects of – their disease may be very susceptible to the effects of immunotherapy. I had one patient who was a younger gentleman who was on a gurney. He was in his 50s, lost an enormous amount of weight , he was on oxygen. We immediately gave him fluids. My fellow – I had an excellent fellow at the time – came to me and said, “Should we admit him and send him to hospice? Or just send him to hospice?” And I looked, and he had a biomarker that indicated that he might have an excellent response to immunotherapy, so we gave him solely immunotherapy and saw him back a few days later. He was still pretty touch and go. We gave him some fluids. A week after that – still, we were kinda touch and go, but he was still with us.

And then a week after that my medical assistant, comes in, and she says, “You know, he looks a little bit better today.” And he was in a wheelchair that day. And then a few weeks after that, he had a walker, and a few weeks after that a cane and about a year after that was asking me about whether or not he could go on a cruise. Again, I still see this gentleman – a couple weeks ago. It’s now almost two years later. And the question now that we have is – should we stop his treatment? And he is restored to complete full health, has had almost no side effects of treatment.

So again, this is not every patient. Some people will be treated and get every side effect and no benefit, but I think I’ve become a lot more reluctant to say that any patient should not at least be offered the opportunity for treatment knowing what the potential side effects are. And there still are considerable and sometimes severe side effects from therapy.

Does Surgery Cause Lung Cancer to Spread? The Facts.

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Sure. Here’s one I hadn’t heard until just now. Surgery causes lung cancer to spread.

Dr. Edelman:

Yeah, that’s common in certain states. When I was in Maryland that was a biggie.

So, there’s a myth that the air gets to the tumor, and then it spreads. But that’s certainly not true. It certainly is possible that in a bad surgical procedure that disease can be spread, but I think historically what that was was in the days before we had as accurate of radiographic studies. So, it’s kinda interesting. I always say, “I’m not that old, and I began medical school before there were CT scans.” So, the way you would diagnose something was with a chest x-ray. That was your best chest imaging. And the brain you’d image with something called a pneumoencephalogram, which is – you don’t know what that is. Most people don’t, and they should be thankful for that. But we had no real way of knowing these things. So, what would happen is there would be a surgical exploration. They would say, “Well, it looks very localized.” But then you’d go in, and there was lots of disease all over the place.

And for the most part, that doesn’t happen anymore. Now we have CT/PET scans. We have MRIs. Patients before they go to surgery usually have had – our pulmonary physicians will usually have sampled the nodes in the middle of the chest, the mediastinum. So, it isn’t that there aren’t surprises, but there are far fewer. And certainly, a properly done operation should not spread lung cancer. I would emphasize the properly done operation. It is my strong belief that nobody should have surgery for lung cancer from other than a board certified thoracic surgeon who spends their time thinking about lung cancer, preferably in an institution with a fair volume of this.

We know – it should be no surprise to people, practice makes perfect. People who really focus in an area – people at the NCI-Designated Cancer Centers, comprehensive cancer centers – who do a lot of this have greater expertise.