The Cancer Biomarker Problem


In 2008, Dr. Charles Sawyers, currently the president of American Association for Cancer Research, wrote an article for the journal Nature entitled: ‘The Cancer Biomarker Problem.’ This excellent paper clearly explains what cancer biomarkers are, outlines the different categories of biomarkers, and emphasizes how important biomarkers are in the field of targeted therapies. Predictive biomarkers are indispensable tools that should direct the rational use of targeted drugs in cancer patients. There are additional types of biomarkers, including some that could help evaluate the course of cancer progression or help determine the effective dose of an investigational drug. But this post focuses on predictive biomarkers. Continue reading…


New Ways to Talk About Cancer: Comics, Cartoons, and the Graphic Novel


Nancy K. Miller is a literary scholar, memoirist, and the author or editor of more than a dozen books. Her new memoir, Breathless: An American Girl in Paris, will be published this fall.

In December 2011, she was diagnosed with stage III lung cancer. She started documenting the experience in cartoons using watercolor, collage, and photographic images. Most recently, she presented her cartoons about her experience of cancer at the 4th International Conference on Comics and Medicine held in Brighton, England, in July. Continue reading…


Afatinib is FDA-Approved: What It Means For NSCLC Patients


On July 12, the FDA announced that it had approved the targeted therapy afatinib (Gilotrif) for the treatment of metastatic non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) with mutations in the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) gene.

EGFR mutations occur in about 10 to 15 percent of all NSCLC patients. The overexpression of the EGFR protein caused by the mutation leads to rapid cell division in tumors. Prior to the approval of afatinib, patients in the United States could only take erlotinib (Tarceva) to combat the EGFR mutation. The third major drug available to treat EGFR-mutated tumors, gefitinib (Iressa) has not yet been approved by the United States but is readily available in many other countries. Erlotinib has consistently outperformed gefitinib, so its lack of availability in the U.S. is no huge loss. Continue reading…


Patient’s Perspective: The Importance of Clinical Trials


Update:  We are deeply saddened to report that Neil passed away on July 29, 2015. It is a privilege to share his story and keep his memory alive.

Neil Schiffman has lived as healthy a life as one can live. An avid cycler and triathlon participant well into his 60s, Neil was visiting Arizona in April 2011 when he began to cough. The cough mimicked the symptoms of exercise-induced asthma, so at first he thought nothing of it. When the cough failed to disappear, he visited his pulmonologist, who suspected bacterial pneumonia. Meanwhile, Neil’s legs and feet began to swell–he went from wearing a size 10 shoe to a size 14. Alarmed, he had an X-ray and a CT scan, which revealed a mass identified as a neoplasm. He was referred to an oncologist, who delivered the bad news in June: Neil had stage IV non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Continue reading…


From GRACE: New FDA Indication for First Line Tarceva in EGFR Mutation-Positive NSCLC May Be Good for Roche but BAD for Patients: Here’s Why


This week, we borrow a post from the excellent website of the Global Resource for Advancing Cancer Education (GRACE). GRACE founder and president Dr. Jack West is an oncologist who treats people with lung cancer. To see the original post, and to explore the many other resources offered by GRACE, click here.

New FDA Indication for First Line Tarceva in EGFR Mutation-Positive NSCLC May Be Good for Roche but BAD for Patients: Here’s Why

Continue reading…


Smart Patients: Groundbreaking Website Supports Conversations among Cancer Patients


Cancer Commons is thrilled to report the public launch of Smart Patients, a new online discussion platform for cancer patients and their caregivers that will enable them to learn from each other and improve their care. The free website lets users share insights about personal treatment experiences, discuss breaking science, and search for clinical trials.

“Many patients are incredibly self-motivated,” says Roni Zeiger, MD, Smart Patients cofounder and former chief health strategist at Google. “They are already finding the most cutting-edge science and we are providing them with a new way to discuss and disseminate this knowledge.” Continue reading…


Tracking Resistance to Cancer Therapies Without Tumor Access


Clinicians would like to be able to monitor whether a cancer patient’s tumor has acquired a resistance mutation as a result of targeted therapy. Knowing early if resistance has developed would allow patients to switch therapies and to curb tumor growth. But taking repeated tumor samples is problematic for many reasons. Biopsies are invasive and some tumors are inaccessible. Another issue is that tumors are mosaics of many different types of cells that are constantly evolving—since biopsies take time in the clinic and only sample a small part of a tumor, they may also not be representative of what is going on with the biology of the entire tumor mass. Continue reading…


Medical Societies Recommend Testing for Lung Cancer Biomarkers


New guidelines recommend lung cancer patients be genetically tested to determine whether they are amenable to a class of drugs called tyrosine kinase inhibitors. Patients with EGFR or ALK mutations could benefit more from such targeted therapies, and suffer fewer side effects, than with chemotherapy. Continue reading…


Hsp90 Inhibitor Ganetespib Overcomes Resistance and Packs a Punch against ALK+ Tumors


A new drug has shown promising efficacy in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) with an anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) gene mutation. Ganetespib overcame acquired resistance to the drug crizotinib and showed strong antitumor activity in mice. Ganetespib works by inhibiting a “chaperone” protein called Hsp90 and thus targets multiple cancer signaling pathways for a more complete and lasting effect. Continue reading…