Lung Cancer - Non-Small Cell: Latest Research

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 08/2017

ON THIS PAGE: You will read about the scientific research being done now to learn more about this type of cancer and how to treat it. Use the menu to see other pages.

Doctors are working to learn more about NSCLC, ways to prevent it, how to best treat it, and how to provide the best care to people diagnosed with this disease. The following areas of research may include new options for patients through clinical trials. Always talk with your doctor about the best diagnostic and treatment options for you.

  • Personalized therapy. Researchers are looking at features of lung tumors that can predict whether a specific chemotherapy or targeted therapy may be effective. To collect this information, patients are increasingly being asked to have additional analyses of the tumor samples taken when the disease is first diagnosed. In many patients for whom chemotherapy is recommended, the amount of tumor tissue removed during the biopsy to diagnose their cancer is not enough for these additional tests. These patients may be asked to have another biopsy to help plan treatment and, if part of a clinical trial, to help researchers find better ways to treat lung cancer. Learn more about personalized therapy.

  • Targeted therapy. Researchers are looking at gene and protein changes that could be new targets for treatment. These include changes called met exon 14 skipping mutations, NTRK translocations, HER-2 mutations, and RET translocations

  • Immunotherapy. Promising results in immunotherapy for NSCLC and the recent approval of multiple types of immunotherapy are leading to more research on using these types of drugs to help the immune system control NSCLC growth.

  • Better techniques for surgery and radiation therapy. Doctors are finding ways to improve the effectiveness of surgery and radiation therapy while reducing the side effects of these procedures. For example, a current study is comparing the removal of the cancer and the nearby lung tissue with lobectomy for early-stage NSCLC. Other studies are looking at video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS), which allows the surgery to be done through smaller openings in the chest. Stereotactic radiation therapy is also being studied for NSCLC. This technique is used to focus radiation therapy more directly on the cancer and spare healthy tissue. Advances in all types of treatment will improve doctors’ ability to combine chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery for the treatment of all stages of NSCLC.

  • Improved screening. NSCLC is more successfully treated in its early stages, which has raised interest in screening people for lung cancer before it causes signs and symptoms. Researchers are studying free-floating cancer DNA from blood tests to learn if these tests could help find molecular changes that can be used to plan treatment. These tests are often called circulating tumor DNA tests and may also be referred to as a “liquid biopsy.” Genetic testing to learn which people have a higher risk of lung cancer is also being researched.

  • Stopping tobacco use. Even with the best methods for the early detection and treatment of lung cancer, the best way to save lives from lung cancer is through programs to encourage people to never begin smoking and, if they have, quit cigarette smoking. For most people, lung cancer is a highly preventable disease. Even for people with lung cancer, stopping smoking lengthens their lives, lowers side effects, and lessens their chance of getting a second lung cancer. Quitting smoking is hard at any time, and even more so during cancer treatment. The health care team can help make it easier to quit smoking with nicotine replacement and other techniques. Research continues into new ways to help people stop smoking.

  • Palliative care. Clinical trials are underway to find better ways of reducing symptoms and side effects of current lung cancer treatments to improve patients’ comfort and quality of life.

Looking for More About the Latest Research?

If you would like additional information about the latest areas of research regarding NSCLC, explore these related items that take you outside of this guide:

The next section in this guide is Coping with Treatment. It offers some guidance in how to cope with the physical, emotional, and social changes that cancer and its treatment can bring. You may use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.