Learn Everything You Can About Biomarkers. It could save your life or your loved one.
About ten years ago, a friend told me that her mother had pancreatic cancer and that there was no hope for treatment for her. Her father is a physician and was not willing to simply sit back and accept that his wife would soon die. He and a colleague learned that his wife’s tumor was HER2 positive, a common biomarker for breast cancer. This was very early in the history of biomarker testing and targeted therapy. So, he reached out to doctors at the major hospitals in his area asking if they would do a trial to treat his wife, using one of the effective breast cancer drugs. He was turned down by several hospitals until he found one doctor, at a well-known hospital, who was willing to try this approach. Thankfully, this treatment was effective for her and she continues to experience a good life.
About six or seven years ago, I was visiting a dear friend who, shortly after my visit, was diagnosed with a neuroendocrine tumor. I spoke with her on the phone and said it was odd that I had recently gone to a talk where the speaker mentioned that neuroendocrine cells are often found in the lung. I told her that there was a growing area in cancer diagnosis and treatment that was based on biomarker testing and I urged her to talk with her doctors to be sure that testing was done.
What is biomarker testing and why is it important for cancer treatment?
Biomarker testing is a way to look for genes, proteins, and other substances (called biomarkers or tumor markers) to find information about cancer. Biomarker testing can provide significant information about an individual’s tumor regarding unique patterns. Knowing what biomarkers are present helps to guide the medical team to make decisions about which drugs to choose. Selecting drug therapy that targets particular biomarkers, or tumor mutations can make a lifesaving difference.
Upstage Lung Cancer’s June, 2021 Backstage @ Upstage Podcast is called, “This Podcast Could Save Your Life.” That might sound a bit over the top, but I assure you, it isn’t! Our guest on this podcast is Jill Feldman, an amazing woman who lost her grandparents, her parents and an aunt to lung cancer, only to find herself at thirty-nine, with small children, diagnosed with lung cancer. Over the past twelve years she’s battled the disease. The treatment that saved, and extended her life, was a drug that directly targeted her tumor that had a particular biomarker, an EGFR mutation.
Also In the same podcast, Dr. Jo-Ellen Murphy, medical liaison to Foundation Medicine described how testing biomarkers can help doctors diagnose and monitor cancer during and after treatment. She described how Jill’s biomarker testing reveled that she had the EGFR gene. Knowing that, allowed for treatments that directly target that mutation with drugs called EGFR inhibitors. Because of comprehensive biomarker testing and subsequent treatment, Jill has been able to sustain hope.
Biomarker testing also can also be used to help choose and enlist in a clinical trial that offers a new cancer treatments. Some studies enroll individuals based on the biomarkers in their cancer, irrespective of where the cancer started growing in the body. What is clear is that in the major teaching hospitals throughout the country, more and more oncology teams know about and request biomarker testing to help determine what treatments are likely to help and those that could not. It is not an overstatement how important it is to discuss biomarkers, as a part of diagnosis and treatment planning with your medical staff.