Lung cancer accounts for around 27-percent of all cancer deaths worldwide, according to the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer (IASLC). That’s more deaths than colon, breast, and prostate cancers combined, adds the source.
Luckily, medical scientists have been hard at work over the years working on more effective therapies in light of a cure. In solidarity with Lung Cancer Awareness Month in November, let’s look at six targeted therapies for lung cancer that are making a difference for patients…
1. Angiogenesis Inhibitors
The American Cancer Society notes that cancerous lung tumors develop their own blood vessels in order to grow. However, there are some drugs that have been developed that directly target this process—and often have less severe side effects than chemotherapy, according to the source.
These drugs for non-small cell lung cancer (the most common form of lung cancer) include Bevacizumab (Avastin) and Ramucirumab (Cyramza). The role of these drugs is to inhibit the formation of blood vessels in the tumor, essentially helping to starve them out. Chemotherapy is sometimes used in conjunction with these drug therapies, notes the cancer society.
2. Kinase Inhibitors
These drugs work by limiting kinases (enzymes) that are responsible for cell growth and reproduction, explains Cancer Treatment Centers of America. One of the drugs, called Crizotinib (brand name Xalkori), “disrupts certain pathways in the cell, which can prevent the growth of tumor cells.”
This treatment is specifically designed for a type of lung cancer in which anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) is overactive, adds the source. This medication is taken orally, so there’s no invasive actions required. Another example of a kinase inhibitor is Dasatinib (Sprycel), which is typically used to treat leukemia (cancer of the bone marrow/blood).
3. EGFR Inhibitors
EGFR is an acronym for epidermal growth factor receptor, which is a protein on the surface of cells, notes the American Cancer Society. It is one of the key factors in helping cells grow and divide, it adds.
In the case of non-small cell lung cancers, there can be too much of this protein that causes cancer cells to thrive. These particular drugs—Erlotinib (Tarceva), Afatinib (Gilotrif) and Gefitinib (Iressa)—”block the signal from EGFR that tells the cells to grow,” explains the cancer society.
4. Apoptosis-inducing Drugs
The Canadian Cancer Society describes this other targeted therapy for lung cancer, which is related the natural process of cells dying. In short, sometimes cancer cells don’t get the message that they’re supposed to die, explains the source.
These drugs restore the communication and help cancer cells die off naturally, and are designed to “interfere with certain proteins or enzymes involved in cell growth and survival,” notes the society. This type of therapy can also make the cancer cells more vulnerable to chemotherapy, it adds.
5. Lung Cancer Vaccines
There are vaccines already out there designed to strengthen the immune system to fight off a variety of cancers, but one that was developed in Cuba is made specifically to target lung cancer.
A vaccine to treat non-small cell lung cancer is called CimaVax EGF, and it arrived in the U.S. only this year, according to an article in CHEST (the newspaper of the American College of Chest Physicians). The vaccine works by “stimulating a patient’s own immune system to make antibodies against epidermal growth factor,” notes the source. The early studies for this drug began in Cuba in 1992, it adds. It was found through research the vaccine is more successful when administered before and after chemotherapy.
6. Molecular Targeting for Adenocarcinoma
Adenocarcinoma is a cancerous tumor that begins in the glandular lining (in this case, the lungs). OncoLink explains that the “most dramatically successful targeted agent to date” is called Gleevec (also known as Imatinib), which inhibits kinase enzymes in leukemia.
While it’s effective for other types of cancer, the 2013 post on OncoLink explains, “There is tremendous interest in developing similar approaches to target molecular abnormalities in lung cancer as well as other solid tumors.” Sources note this therapy is now also being used for skin cancers, as well as tumors of the digestive system.