A lung cancer diagnosis can bring a host of emotions and questions, and “now what?” is one of the first. Assembling the right care team and creating a treatment plan designed uniquely for you is important to get you on the right track.
One of the first things to understand is that not all lung cancers are the same. Comprehensive biomarker testing can identify specific mutations (also known as genetic “drivers”) in your cancer called biomarkers. These mutations cause cancer to grow and spread in different ways.
Learn more about comprehensive biomarker testing and how it can help you uncover the appropriate treatment options available with this information from LUNGevity Foundation.
What is Comprehensive Biomarker Testing?
Comprehensive biomarker testing is used for people living with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) to determine the presence of particular mutations or proteins in tumors. It is the first step in precision medicine and helps ensure a patient gets matched to the right treatment at the right time based on the cancer’s biomarker status.
This testing is a way for a health care team to gather as much information as possible about a patient’s unique NSCLC, ideally before treatment begins. To be comprehensive, biomarker testing must test for all biomarkers that are recommended for your type and stage of NSCLC, based on the most current clinical guidelines.
The results of these tests help determine whether any of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved NSCLC targeted therapies or a particular immunotherapy drug is right for you as part of the treatment plan. Sometimes a new treatment being tested through a clinical trial may be recommended based on which biomarker is found in the cancer. Comprehensive biomarker testing is most often used to plan treatments for advanced-stage NSCLC.
What Steps Should be Taken to Complete Comprehensive Biomarker Testing?
- Talk: Knowing your biomarkers can help your health care team treat your unique type of NSCLC. The first step is to talk to your health care team about comprehensive biomarker testing so you don’t miss any potentially crucial information or treatment options. It is important to ask for comprehensive biomarker testing so your doctor tests for all recommended biomarkers. You’ll also want to explore whether comprehensive biomarker testing is covered by your private insurance, Medicare or Medicaid plan.
- Test: Your medical team will test for all recommended biomarkers that could be causing your NSCLC to grow and spread. Comprehensive biomarker testing results can take four weeks or longer, but they can help your health care team understand more about your specific type of cancer.
- Treat: Comprehensive biomarker testing results can help inform your individualized treatment plan and provide information necessary for your health care team to determine treatment options specific to your cancer type.
How is Comprehensive Biomarker Testing Done?
Tissue biopsies are the only way to confirm a diagnosis of lung cancer; they are also the standard way to detect driver mutations. There are many different biopsy techniques that can be used to obtain the tumor tissue.
After the tumor tissue is collected, it is sent to a laboratory for testing. In comprehensive biomarker testing, driver mutations in multiple genes are tested for at the same time, rather than one mutation at a time, including not only the ones with approved treatments, but also other known driver mutations.
This is because some of the driver mutations without currently approved treatments may have treatments being tested now or in the near future. Testing positive for a biomarker that currently does not have an approved treatment may make you eligible for a future treatment option or an available clinical trial.
Comprehensive biomarker testing results are analyzed by a pathologist and recorded in a pathology report. It is a good idea to get a copy of your pathology report for your own information and have it available to show other doctors, if necessary.
Learn more and find additional resources at noonemissed.org.
From Diagnosis to Making a Difference
Stephen Huff, a professional baseball player turned history teacher, was 29 and two months away from marrying the love of his life, Emily, when he was diagnosed with stage IV non-small-cell lung cancer. He was in shock, but his fiancee and mother became advocates who learned about comprehensive biomarker testing.
His oncologist wanted him to join a clinical trial for an experimental treatment, but his family insisted they wait for the biomarker testing results before deciding on a treatment path. That’s how they learned he was ALK positive, a rare mutation that can be treated through targeted therapy.
Huff has been on the same targeted therapy for three and a half years. Since his diagnosis, he and Emily got married, bought a house and expanded their family.