The medical literature tells us that one of the most stressful times of a patients' cancer course is the time between discovering that they may have cancer and beginning their treatment. So much is new and unknown. For many patients, this is their first exposure to the health care system. The patient often requires multiple tests and need to consult with different physician specialties, sometimes in different hospitals before treatment can begin. It can be a time where well meaning family and friends provide advice and anecdotes from their experiences with cancer.
One issue that everyone with lung cancer faces, but that we haven't covered before, is the duration of a lung cancer work-up. I've worked in a range of treatment settings and see patients for second opinions who come from very different backgrounds and receive their work-ups through completely different medical systems. In that process, you see some patients who receive a stunningly fast series of tests and a short interval from first suspicious finding to diagnosis and ultimate treatment of cancer.
Circulating Tumor Cells from Lung Cancer as a Window into the Tumor: Important Proofs of Principle Published in NEJM
In a recent issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, a research group from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston published some very promising results from their work showing that they can now detect circulating tumor cells (CTCs) from most patients with lung cancer and even detect EGFR mutations and other molecular findings from these cells collected just from patient blood samples (
In the past couple of posts we’ve seen that based on evidence from Japan and Rome, number of lymph nodes resected and also the absolute number of positive nodes and/or proportion of positive nodes may be important prognostic variable. A third abstract I reviewed on the same subject came from Peoria, IL, and illustrated a key reason why using these variables may not be as consistently useful as we’d like, at least in many parts of the world.
At this year's ASCO meeting, I had the opportunity to review and provide commentary on several presentations from other researchers, all on the topic of how to refine our ability to predict how patients will do after surgery for stage I - IIIA NSCLC, with an idea that this information can help guide decisions about who should receive chemo and who shouldn't.
I've described mediastinoscopy as a "gold standard" preoperative procedure in patients who are candidates for surgery. Although it's controversial whether patients with a very low likelihood or a very high likelihood of cancer in the mediastinal nodes (mid-chest, between the lungs) need to have this confirmed by obtaining tissue to review under a microscope, we strongly prefer to get tissue for patients in whom this is a reasonably open question.
I was reminded of the important topic of occult N2 NSCLC by a comprehensive review that just came out in the Journal of Thoracic Oncology (abstract here) by a friend, thoracic surgeon Frank Detterbeck, who leads the thoracic oncology program at Yale.
There's a website called Adjuvant! Online, developed by oncologist Peter Ravdin, that is best known for its use after surgery for breast cancer in assessing the value of post-operative chemo. Because I don't really treat breast cancer, I haven't spent time on the website, but I do know that it's a valued resource among practicing oncologists who care for patients with breast cancer.
An interesting article just came out in the Journal of Clinical Oncology from researchers at Duke, led by Dr. Ed Patz of the Radiology Department there (abstract here).
Although I’ve described this concept in a few posts over the past year, it’s time for me to dedicate some real discussion to the concept of individualizing treatment with the ERCC1 marker. ERCC1 stands for excision repair cross-complementing group 1, and it helps repair damage to DNA.