Tonight we report on a potential advance in the treatment of lung cancer — a test to see who can benefit from chemotherapy immediately after surgery to remove early stage lung cancer. I say potential advance because this is about a test that is not yet on the market. It requires a large trial to prove its true worth, and that won't be finished for a few years. You can read an abstract of the actual research from the New England Journal of Medicine.
We chose to publicize this early finding because lung cancer is by far the leading cancer killer and treatment advances have lagged far behind other cancers. This is about to change. A screening test that finds cancer at its earliest stages has just completed a 10-year trial. Those results have not been published, but many experts widely expect they will show that former and current smokers can benefit from screening to find early, small cancers that can be removed easily with surgery.
But even when a tiny tumor is removed there is still a big problem. In half of the patients the cancer will recur, threatening the patient's life. The new test, based an analysis of 2,100 genes, distinguished between the tumors that are cured by surgery alone and those that require preventative – so called adjuvant - chemotherapy. The scientists estimate the test has the potential to save tens of thousands of lives a year.
This is the latest discovery in what is called "personalized medicine" -– using tests to individualize therapy so that only those who need the treatment get it while others can be spared the cost and side effects.