Daily Pill May Cut Lung Cancer Mortality in Half: Study

Daily Pill May Cut Lung Cancer Mortality in Half: Study
George Citroner

A nearly decade-long study revealed that a once-a-day pill can reduce the risk of death from lung cancer by more than half, offering hope for improved patient outcomes and potentially saving millions of lives.

Recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), the research involved 682 patients, including those diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), which accounts for 80 to 85 percent of all diagnosed lung cancers.

Lung cancer, the third most common cancer, is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States, responsible for nearly 25 percent of all cancer fatalities. According to the American Cancer Society, more individuals succumb to lung cancer annually than to colon, breast, and prostate cancers combined.

Although lung cancer is predominantly linked to tobacco use, 10 to 20 percent of lung cancer cases occur in individuals who have never smoked. Nonsmoker lung cancer cases are more prevalent in women and manifest at a younger age compared to those developed by smokers.

Drug Affects Gene Linked to Lung Cancer

The NEJM study analyzed the results of the phase 3 clinical trial funded by AstraZeneca, conducted between 2015 and 2020. All trial participants had a mutation in their epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) gene, called an EGFR mutation.

An EGFR mutation is a genetic change that occurs in the EGFR gene, a protein involved in cell growth and survival.

The mutation results in excessive production of the protein, leading to unregulated cell growth, which can contribute to the development of lung cancer.

During the clinical trial, patients received either osimertinib (Tagrisso), a kinase-inhibiting drug, or a placebo. The five-year follow-up results revealed that after tumor removal surgery, 88 percent of the patients who received the drug were still alive, compared to 78 percent of the placebo group.

According to AstraZeneca, Tagrisso's manufacturer, these findings suggest a significant 51 percent reduction in the risk of death with Tagrisso compared to the placebo.

First Study to Show Improvement in Cure Rate After Surgery

“In the U.S., 10 to 15 percent of patients with lung cancer will have mutations in the epidermal growth factor receptor, and these patients, even after they receive the best available therapy, their tumor still often comes back,” Dr. Roy Herbst, deputy director of Yale Cancer Center and principal investigator of the trial, said in a press statement.

Since the completion of the phase 3 trial in 2020, it has become standard to check for this gene mutation in patients undergoing surgery, specifically those with tumors of a certain size, Dr. Roger Keresztes, an oncologist at the Stony Brook Cancer Center, told The Epoch Times. “Prior to that, we only tested in people who had metastatic disease,” he said.

Keresztes added that the findings of this five-year follow-up are very significant “because this is the first study that showed a benefit to one of these targeted drugs in the postoperative setting.”

He further explained that these drugs have traditionally been used for patients with incurable metastatic disease. “So to show that there is an improvement in the cure rate after surgery is a first,” he said.

While the clinical trial results are encouraging, and new lung cancer rates are in decline worldwide, there has been a notable increase in the incidence of lung cancer in one particular group.

Alarming Increase in Lung Cancer Rates Among Women

Lung cancer is now the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in women, with 20 percent of cases occurring in nonsmokers.
Research published in the International Journal of Cancer found that women are being diagnosed with lung cancer at significantly higher rates than men of similar age in many high-income countries, including the United States. While smoking plays a major role, the rise of adenocarcinoma lung cancer in women suggests other factors are at play.
“The emerging higher lung cancer incidence rates in young women compared to young men is widespread and not fully explained by sex differences in smoking patterns," the study authors wrote. They emphasize a need for more research to understand the rising lung cancer rates in young women.
Research published in the Journal of Thoracic Disease suggests that estrogen may be an important factor for increased rates of adenocarcinoma in women and that the response to the newest lung cancer therapies among women is different than in men.

The findings also suggest that lung cancer incidence rates are highest among young, white, non-Hispanic women, with disparities in tumor aggressiveness and survival rates among ethnic groups.

George Citroner reports on health and medicine, covering topics that include cancer, infectious diseases, and neurodegenerative conditions. He was awarded the Media Orthopaedic Reporting Excellence (MORE) award in 2020 for a story on osteoporosis risk in men.