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What to Know About Biomarker Testing for Lung Cancer: An Expert Q&A

*June 2022*

Biomarker testing, which may also be called molecular testing or tumor marker testing, is when doctors perform detailed studies on tumor tissue taken during a biopsy or blood sample to understand the specific features of a person’s cancer. Biomarkers are substances found in higher-than-normal levels in the blood, urine, or tissues of some people with cancer. Biomarkers can also refer to mutations, changes, or patterns in a tumor’s DNA.

Identifying specific biomarkers of a tumor is important because some mutations, particularly in people with lung cancer, can be “drivers” of the cancer, which means that they may be a primary cause of that cancer growing and dividing.

Why can biomarker testing be helpful in treating a person with lung cancer?

There has been significant research done to identify specific mutations found in lung cancer. For many of these mutations, there is a type of treatment called targeted therapy available to target different, specific mutations. These targeted therapies have been proven in clinical trials to be effective in treating lung cancers with those mutations.

Targeted therapy works by targeting the cancer’s specific genes, proteins, or tissue environment that are contributing to cancer growth. These treatments can then slow, stop, or destroy the cancer. Knowing which biomarkers your lung cancer has is important because, in some cases, there may be a targeted therapy available to effectively block mutations found in the cancer that may be driving the cancer’s growth and survival.

For this reason, biomarker testing is a critical part of planning treatment for any person with advanced lung cancer and potentially other people with other stages of lung cancer. Not all lung cancers have a “driver mutation,” but for those that do and that have an associated targeted therapy available to block that mutation, it is often the most effective approach for treating that cancer. Targeted therapy may also cause fewer side effects than other treatments because it limits damage to healthy cells.

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