What`s new in small cell lung cancer research?
Lung cancer research is going on now in many medical centers throughout the world.
At this time, many researchers believe that prevention offers the greatest promise for fighting lung cancer. Smoking still accounts for almost 9 out of 10 lung cancer deaths. This percentage is likely even higher for small cell lung cancers. Studies are going on to look at how best to help people quit smoking through counseling, nicotine replacement, and other medicines. Other studies are looking at ways to convince young people not to start smoking. Researchers are also looking at differences in genes that may make some people much more likely to get lung cancer if they smoke or are exposed to someone else's smoke.
Diet, nutrition, and medicines
Although researchers are looking for ways to use vitamins or medicines to prevent lung cancer in people at high risk, so far, these have not proved to help. Many researchers think that simply following the American Cancer Society nutrition recommendations (such as staying at a healthy weight and eating at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day) may be the best approach.
Finding lung cancer
As mentioned in the section, "How is small cell lung cancer found?" a large study called the National Lung Screening Trial (NLST) recently found that spiral CT scanning in people at high risk of lung cancer (due to smoking history) lowered the risk of death from lung cancer when compared to chest x-rays. This finding has led to the development of screening guidelines for lung cancer.
Another approach uses new ways to try to find cancer cells in sputum (spit) samples. Researchers have also found some changes that often affect the DNA of lung cancer cells. New tests might be able to spot these changes and find lung cancer at an earlier stage.
Fluorescence bronchoscopy (also known as autofluorescence bronchoscopy) is a method that may help doctors find some lung cancers earlier, when they could be easier to treat. For this test, the doctor puts a bronchoscope through the mouth or nose and into the lungs. The end of the bronchoscope has a special light on it. The light causes abnormal areas in the airways to show up in a different color than healthy parts of the airway. Some cancer centers now use this to look for early lung cancers, especially when no tumors are seen with normal bronchoscopy.
An imaging test called virtual bronchoscopy uses CT scans to create detailed 3-D pictures of the airways in the lung. The images can be looked at as if the doctor were actually using a bronchoscope. There are benefits and drawbacks to this approach. But it may be a useful tool in some cases, such as in people who might be too sick to get a standard bronchoscopy. This test will likely be used more often as the technology improves.
Many clinical trials are being done to see how well newer combinations of chemo drugs work. These studies are also looking at ways to reduce side effects, especially in patients who are older and have other health problems. Doctors are also searching for better ways to combine chemo with radiation and other treatments.
Some new chemo drugs have shown promise in early studies and are now being tested in larger clinical trials.
Researchers are learning more about the inner workings of lung cancer cells that control their growth and spread. This is being used to develop new targeted therapies. These drugs work in a different way from standard chemo drugs. They often have different (and less severe) side effects. Many of these are being tested in clinical trials to see if they can help people with advanced cancer to live longer or to relieve their symptoms.
Drugs to keep new blood vessels from growing (anti-angiogenesis drugs)
For cancers to grow, new blood vessels must develop to nourish the cancer cells within tumors. This process is called angiogenesis. New drugs that slow or stop angiogenesis are being studied as lung cancer treatments. Some have already been successfully used for other cancer types. For instance, a drug called bevacizumab (Avastin) has been shown to help patients with some types of non-small cell lung cancer, and is now being tested in small cell lung cancer. In a study of small cell lung cancer, it helped stop some of the cancers from growing for a time, but didn’t seem to help the patients live longer.
Vaccines that boost the body's immune system to better kill lung cancer cells are being tested in clinical trials. Unlike vaccines against infections like measles or mumps, these vaccines are designed to help treat, not prevent, lung cancer. One possible advantage of these types of treatments is that they seem to have fewer side effects, so they might be useful in people who can't have other treatments. At this time, vaccines are only being used in clinical trials.
Last Medical Review: 03/14/2012
Last Revised: 01/17/2013