Lung Cancer Tumor Testing

Key points

  • Mutations or changes in the cell can cause the cell to behave abnormally.
  • A new type of lung cancer testing (often called molecular or biomarker testing) exists that can sometimes find what exact mutations are in the cell.
  • There are some new lung cancer treatments available that can “target” these mutations directly. These lung cancer treatments often cause fewer side effects because they focus on what is exactly wrong with the cell, instead of killing normal, healthy cells too.
  • Lung cancer tumor testing is a promising field, but does not guarantee a cure for lung cancer.

Take action

Ask your doctor if he or she recommends you get your tumor tested.

When a tumor is biopsied (a small portion removed), a pathologist examines the tissue and its cells closely. This determines what type of lung cancer it is: small cell lung cancer or non-small cell lung cancer. Now more detailed testing can be done on your tumor if your doctor requests it. These lung cancer tumor tests are sometimes referred to as molecular testing or biomarker testing. They look for changes (mutations) in the DNA of the tumor and levels of specific proteins present in the tumor.

It is helpful for doctors to know what exactly causes the cell to grow uncontrollably. If they know this, they may choose to treat you with targeted therapies. These therapies stop the proteins and molecules in the cancer cell from telling it to continue to grow. 

How do targeted therapies work?

There are targeted therapy lung cancer treatments available for tumors that have the following characteristics:

Each mutation works in a different way, but in general they all cause the cell to grow uncontrollably.

Watch Dr. Edward Kim talk about how targeted therapies relate to lung cancer treatment in our Ask the Expert series in the interactive library.

Not everyone who is tested for lung cancer will have biomarkers that can be treated with targeted therapies. While lung cancer tumor testing is a promising field, it does not guarantee a lung cancer cure. Talk to your doctor about whether or not you should have your tumor tested.

Talk to your doctor about testing your tumor.

Click here to download a list of suggested questions.

Lung cancer therapies are always changing and more research is needed to find out how well molecular tumor testing and treatment work. Clinical trials are research studies where patients participate to help evaluate new cancer treatments. Lung cancer clinical trials can be helpful to the patient and researchers. Talk to your doctor if you are interested in learning more about lung cancer clinical trials.