Lung cancer is the second most common cancer globally, with about 2.21 million cases detected annually, and whose five-year survival rate is barely 21%. Biomarkers in conjunction with precision or personalized medicine have become the new allies of specialists, allowing them to determine the most appropriate treatment for each patient based on the subtype of lung cancer that the person suffers from and offer them greater hope. in search of a better quality of life.
Biomarkers or tumor markers are changes in DNA, hormone or gene that can indicate normal or abnormal processes in the body, in response to a certain disease. They can be mutations, proteins or genes; These provide information about the stage of the cancer, the possibility of applying a certain therapy, and how the tumor might respond to that treatment. Two types stand out: circulating tumor markers and tumor tissue markers.
For its part, precision medicine is one of the main revolutions in the treatment of those suffering from certain subtypes of cancer, which through genomic tests in the tumor or in peripheral blood, allows health professionals to determine therapeutic decisions in a personalized way. ; that is, according to the molecular and genomic characteristics of each patient’s cancer.
Cancer subtypes refer to smaller groups, divided according to the characteristics of the malignant cells. In the case of non-small cell lung cancer, those with the ALK-positive tumor marker or mutation and those related to the epidermal growth factor receptor or EGFR stand out, presenting in about 15% of patients.
According to Dr. Eyra Medina, medical leader of oncology at Pfizer Central America and the Caribbean (CAC), health professionals use biomarker analysis to determine the subtype of cancer that a person presents. Given this result, it is determined which treatment can receive; that is the science of their combined use.
“According to the World Health Organization, cancer is the leading cause of death worldwide and while the survival rate for some has improved over the past few decades, lung cancer is the leading cause of death from this disease. disease, between women and men, in the world. For this reason, from our role as pioneers in the development of precision medicine, at Pfizer we work to bring innovations in treatment based on biomarkers to patients with this and other types of cancer. The more we understand the complexity of this disease, the better we can treat it,” continued Dr. Medina.
Lung cancer: risk factors and symptoms
Smoking is normally considered one of the main causes of lung cancer; however, not all people with this disease smoke. For example, cases with an ALK-positive tumor marker or mutation often occur in people who are younger and do not smoke or smoke little. Likewise, patients with a biomarker in the EGFR gene may have had mild tobacco exposure, may be female, or of Asian descent.
Other causes of lung cancer can be secondhand smoke (secondhand smoke), air pollution, and exposure to radon gas, as well as certain chemicals and asbestos. A small number of cases occur in those with no known risk factors.
“Part of our commitment at Pfizer includes understanding the biology behind cancer subtypes and identifying genetic mutations or biomarkers that can be used to inhibit the growth of malignant cells. For this reason, we generate evidence-based science that supports the decision of a treatment”, said Dr. Medina.
It should be noted that, for the most part, lung cancer does not produce symptoms until it is already advanced, so it is essential to be aware of any signs and see a doctor immediately. Chest pain and a persistent or bloody cough are two of the most important to look out for. Also, there is usually difficulty breathing, a constant feeling of tiredness, wheezing in the chest when breathing (wheezing), continuous attacks of pneumonia and inflammation and weight loss without apparent cause.
Diagnostics and other benefits of precision medicine
Given symptoms or previous risk factors presented by the patient, the doctor may request several tests to determine if there are cancer cells. Imaging tests of the lungs are commonly used; In the case of coughing up sputum, a cytology is performed on it and a blood tissue sample can also be taken and to identify biomarkers, it can also be a liquid biopsy.
The earlier the diagnosis is made, the better. It should be noted that not all sick people have detectable alterations or mutations through certain tests and in view of this, the correct assessment is important to receive the appropriate treatment.
Although surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy continue to be treatment options for lung cancer, precision medicine uses targeted drugs to attack malignant lung cancer cells without harming healthy ones. Likewise, this allows patients to participate in clinical studies that evaluate the efficacy of therapies directed against the tumor or specific alterations of the person, promoting the development of new drugs.
Other benefits of precision medicine include promoting the identification of people at high risk of suffering from a certain type of cancer and helping them reduce that risk, and early detection of certain types of tumors.
“At Pfizer, we believe that every person diagnosed with cancer deserves the best treatment option, for their personalized diagnosis. That is the reason why we continue to carry out cutting-edge research to be able to fight the most difficult-to-treat cancers”, concluded Eyra Medina.
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