Confronting Stigma with Science: What Asian Americans Should Know about Lung Cancer and Tumor Mutations


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Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the US. Among Asian Americans, there is a higher risk of being diagnosed with a specific type of non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) — one that tests positive for tumor mutations in the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) gene. Up to 50% of Asian patients diagnosed with a common type of NSCLC called adenocarcinoma have an EGFR mutation. Knowing whether they have this mutation could affect their treatment options.

Metastatic NSCLC patients with an EGFR mutation can be treated with targeted therapies, called EGFR tyrosine kinase inhibitors, that come in the form of a pill and are designed to target that specific mutation, which may help stop the cancer from growing and spreading. EGFR mutations can be detected by a blood test and by testing a tissue sample removed from a tumor. Both may be necessary to receive a complete diagnosis. Testing the makeup of a tumor for mutations, biomarker testing, can give physicians more information about a patient’s lung cancer type and help determine the best treatment options for them.

Yet, awareness about the role of mutations and biomarker testing remains low, due in part to the cultural stigma surrounding lung cancer in the Asian American community. Unfortunately, this stigma may also be a barrier to testing for EGFR mutations at diagnosis of metastatic NSCLC. Biomarker testing rates among Asian Americans with metastatic NSCLC remain suboptimal and inconsistent nationwide, despite clinical practice guidelines recommending that mNSCLC patients with certain biomarkers may benefit from targeted therapy. These guidelines also recommend that testing for mutations including EGFR, ALK and ROS1 must be performed on all metastatic lung cancer patients with an adenocarcinoma component.

Experts say the best way to combat the stigma is to educate metastatic NSCLC patients about the importance of biomarker testing at diagnosis, as increased awareness can help patients better advocate for themselves.

“Noninvasive biomarker testing is critical for treatment planning for patients,” said medical oncologist, Dr. Bing Xia of the Keck School of Medicine at University of Southern California (USC), Los Angeles. “It’s important for patients to know with recent scientific advances, we’ve had a high success rate in identifying the mutation that is responsible for an individual’s lung cancer and treating based on biomarker testing results.”

Metastatic NSCLC patients should talk to their doctors to ensure that they have received a complete lung cancer diagnosis and that they’re getting the best treatment for their type of lung cancer. Not all lung cancers are the same, and treatments can vary from person to person, so the more patients and their healthcare providers know, the more personalized their treatment plan can be.

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US-33957 Last Updated 2/20

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