Pathologists now have the ability to peer into the biochemical blueprint of each tumor, says medical oncologist Mark Kris, Chief of the Thoracic Oncology Service. To characterize a tumor, doctors use a minimally invasive procedure called endobronchial ultrasound, in which a tube called a bronchoscope is inserted into the airways to examine the chest and obtain a tissue sample. A pathologist then examines the tissue to determine if it contains genetic mutations that are known to contribute to the growth and progression of lung cancer cells.
Using this information, doctors can select a treatment approach that likely will be most effective for each person. For example, people who have a mutation in a gene called EGFR (epidural growth factor receptor) are treated with medications that block this receptor, preventing the growth of cancer cells. Researchers are working to identify additional genetic markers that will help in selecting and developing additional targeted therapies.