Lung cancer remains the leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide. In the United States, non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) accounts for 75–80% of all lung cancers. Although progress has been made in recent years, the majority of patients with advanced stage lung cancer still die from their disease.

Precision medicine continues to impact the lives of lung cancer patients with research into genomics and genetics leading to unprecedented progress in improving outcomes. Tailored treatments have emerged to match a person’s genetic make­up or a tumor’s genetic profile.

One new class of medicines called PD-1 inhibitors has generated great excitement for their ability to help the immune system recognize and attack cancer. PD-1 is a protein that inhibits certain types of immune responses, allowing cancer cells to evade an attack by certain immune cells.1 Drugs that block the PD-1 pathway enhance the ability of the immune system to fight cancer.

Researchers at the European Society for Medical Oncology annual meeting in Copenhagen have reported that overall 66% of lung cancer patients have some expression of PD-1, and 28% are “high expressers” with over 50% of the tested tumor expressing PD-1.2

Keytruda® (pembrolizumab) and Opdivo® (nivolumab) work by blocking PD-1 and have demonstrated impressive activity in the treatment of lung cancers and are approved by the FDA. Recent studies have demonstrated that Keytruda is superior to chemotherapy and associated with fewer side effects.

As a result, all patients with lung cancer should re­ceive molecular testing that can be used to guide their physicians in determining which therapies are more likely to increase the chance of survival while limiting the potential for adverse effects.


  2. Aggarwal C, Abreu D, Felip E, et al. Prevalence of PD-L1 expression in patients with non-small cell lung cancer screened for enrollment in KEYNOTE-001,-010, and -024. Annals of Oncology. 2016;27(6). Abstract #1060P.

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