Small cell lung cancer calls for individualized treatment, study finds

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A new study conducted at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) at the University of Utah revealed that there are distinctly different types of tumors within small cell lung cancer, suggesting that the cancer, which kills 30,000 people every year in the U.S., should not be treated as a uniform disease.

The study, published in Cancer Cell, was led by Trudy G. Oliver, PhD, an investigator at HCI and an assistant professor of oncological sciences at the University of Utah.

"Currently when small cell lung cancer patients come in, there is no genetic testing for them,” Oliver said. “They're just diagnosed with small cell and they are all treated basically the same way. But our research showed small cell tumors do not all act alike. That becomes very important in how a patient is treated."

To determine this, Oliver and her team used mice to create a replica of a small cell tumor subgroup. It is estimated that this tumor makes up about one-fifth of patients with small cell lung cancer. By examining the mice cohort, the researchers found distinct property patterns within the tumors.

"The C-MYC tumors physically look different under the microscope," Oliver said. "They're much more aggressive. They grow faster and they spread faster. And most importantly, they respond differently to therapy."

The recommended treatment for small cell lung cancer has been chemotherapy, but often times, the tumors develop a resistance to it. However, in their research, the investigators identified a new drug—an Aurora kinase inhibitor that improved outcomes for the mice when combined with chemotherapy.

"The mice survive about twice as long," Oliver said. "We have some mice that really had extended survival. If these observations could be translated to people, this could be a significant breakthrough for patients with small cell lung cancer."