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Uncovering the secrets behind lung cancer

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Updated: 1/25/2013 10:30 am

(BPT) - If you think lung cancer only affects smokers, you're not alone. Many people believe this, but the truth is, anyone can get lung cancer. You can be young or old, male or female, a smoker or a non-smoker.

Laura McCracken, 35 and a non-smoker, learned this firsthand. A lingering cough sent her to many doctors in search of answers. Because lung cancer is hard to detect, hers had already reached a late stage by the time they found it.

With the help of family and friends, McCracken researched her options. She learned that lung cancer isn't just one type of cancer. In fact, there are many different kinds. The type of lung cancer a person has depends on the genetic make-up of the person's tumor. She also learned about new scientific discoveries, including molecular testing for biomarkers. These tests could uncover the altered genes that were causing her type of lung cancer to grow. And that could possibly affect her treatment plan.

She had her tumor tested for biomarkers and got the results a few weeks later. McCracken's cancer was being driven by one particular biomarker called epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR). Armed with this knowledge, her doctor recommended a treatment targeted to her specific cancer type. She continues to participate in activities she loves and volunteers in the lung cancer community to help inspire and encourage others.

'Lung cancer is as different as the people who get it,' McCracken says. 'By knowing my specific biomarker, I gained confidence in the appropriate treatment for my cancer.'

In the past, when lung cancer was thought of as one disease, the treatment approach was 'one-size-fits-all.' Today, doctors encourage their patients to seek out molecular testing. It can help them know whether genetic changes may be driving their particular cancer.

Dr. David Gandara of the University of California Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center is involved with a national campaign called Lung Cancer Profiles. The program aims to change the image of lung cancer and raise awareness of molecular testing. It is a collaboration between Pfizer Oncology and The Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation, Lung Cancer Alliance, LUNGevity, Lung Cancer Foundation of America, National Lung Cancer Partnership and Uniting Against Lung Cancer.

'Our goal is to learn the 'molecular fingerprint' of a patient's cancer,' says Gandara. 'We now have the ability to truly personalize therapy for some patients based on this 'fingerprint,' and new discoveries are being made at a rapid rate.'

Could molecular testing lead to a more customized treatment plan for your cancer, or for someone you know? Testing is the only way to know. Talk to your doctor about whether testing is an option for you.

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