The Roche Column

New technologies used in the fight against lung cancer

Lung cancer has been the most common cancer in the world for several decades as 1.8 million people develop this disease every year. This is more per year than breast, colorectal and prostate cancer combined. Yet, in spite of the tremendous efforts by researchers and the medical community, awareness on the gravity of the situation still lags. When 3 people die of this cancer every minute, the need to shed light on the prevention, diagnosis and treatment is greater than ever. To explore this in depth, we spoke to Dr Norbert Dreier, Head of Department – Oncology, Hematology at Burjeel Hospital, at the 4th International Oncology Conference in the United Arab Emirates.

“One of the most important steps for physicians in treating lung cancer is to identify the specific mutation of the patient’s tumour to be able to accurately determine if they will benefit from a particular treatment. A cunning disease like lung cancer that can shift forms with time and requires constant follow up,” said Dr Dreier. “The survival rate in lung cancer is considerably low in comparison with other cancers where only 10% of patients can survive for 5 years or more. When the cancer is advanced, even with treatment, patients can find it difficult to survive for more than a year. The best way to cure lung cancer is to detect it early.”

However, with diseases like non-small cell lung cancer it is difficult to resect enough tissue from the biopsy for biomarker testing, due to the health of the patient or the location of the tumour. Thus, a liquid biopsy is a critical procedure for patients with cancer. It provides much needed information on diagnosis, prognosis, and prediction of response or resistance to treatment.

“Luckily, treatment options for patients are much better than what they used to be in the past. There are genetic tests available that patients can take to obtain personalised treatments that can prolong their life. However, these treatment options are for patients with advanced lung cancer where disease management rather than treatment is required,” Dr Dreier said.

This paradigm shift from one-size-fitsall treatment to targeted therapies is the core of Personalised Healthcare. The latest innovations from Roche, as the world’s leading biotech company, come at a perfect time as it offers a ground-breaking approach in fighting cancer by strengthening the patient’s immune system. Thanks to the new testing methods, physicians and labs can use plasma from the patient, which contains proteins, nucleic acids and cancerous cells from a tumour. The blood draw is a non-invasive procedure for patients and a repeatable testing method that has great potential to transform cancer patient-testing and management, and is quickly becoming a complement to the common tissue biopsy technique.

Dr Dreier explained: “Now with the development of immunotherapy, we can activate our own immune systems in the fight against cancer cells. This is not the first line of treatment, but if the patient does not respond to standard treatment options, we can – with immunotherapy – see if the body responds better. It can aid patients greatly with relatively minimal side effects in most cases. The current trend is to shift towards more personalised treatment. This targeted approach requires very advanced diagnostics solutions and these tools will definitely change the dynamics of oncology.”

In terms of awareness on the importance of screening for lung cancer, Dr Dreier believes a lot more can be done to educate the public; particularly for heavy smokers with 15 years or more of heavy smoking at 40 cigarettes or more a day.

“When symptoms such as severe coughing or the presence of blood when coughing, the case is inspected with a CT scan or X-ray. The best screening tool for lung cancer is a CT scan, but because it is cumbersome and costly to screen every patient, the identification of a risk group is an important step – similar to what is being done in breast cancer, for example. Implementing such programs will definitely be a step forward in raising awareness of this deadly disease.”


Date of upload: 17th Jan 2017  

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