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· Fred Hutch News Service talks with Dr. David MacPherson about the state of research into small cell lung cancer, how his lab is monitoring this disease, and what he's looking forward to in the future.
· What treatment options are available for small cell lung cancer? How is MacPherson's lab making an effort to find new treatments for this disease?
Can you give us a primer on small cell lung cancer, and why more research is needed?
This is one of the most aggressive of all cancer types. It’s also about the sixth most frequent cause of cancer deaths in the U.S. But despite the high number of patients dying from small cell every year, there have been relatively few labs that have historically been studying this disease. We have a very poor understanding of the biology of small cell compared to a lot of other prevalent tumor types.
Until very recently the treatment was the same chemotherapy as it was about 30 years ago. In about two-thirds of cases, patients respond very well, but the problem is that the patient then comes back to the clinic months later with chemotherapy-resistant, recalcitrant tumors. There’s very little that can be done for those patients. The recent addition of immune checkpoint inhibitors to the chemotherapy regimen has provided some improvements in response and standard of care, but extensions in survival were modest. It’s really a tumor type where we need to do a better job in the clinic.
What’s changing in small cell lung cancer research?
In 2013, Congress passed the Recalcitrant Cancer Act, which mandated increased attention to certain recalcitrant cancers, including small cell lung cancer.
That led to the National Cancer Institute supporting small cell–specific research through a consortium that I’m a part of. That has helped to bring new people and projects and deeper investigation of basic mechanisms into the small cell lung cancer field. Our knowledge of small cell is improving, but we have a ways to go.
Read the full article about small cell lung cancer by Sabrina Richards at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.