The biology of lung cancer in women is dramatically different from what is seen in men; reveals a new study led by Indian-origin scientist at Duke Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy (IGSP).
Dr Anil Potti, an oncologist in the Duke Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy (IGSP) and the senior author of the study, said that physicians have had to rely on very rough measures to categorize patients' lung cancers, factors such as the size of the tumour, the tissue type and the degree to which the cancer had spread.
"But this new information tells us that we can analyze patients' disease much more discretely," he added.
He said the information could also be used to enrich the selection process in clinical trials designed to evaluate new drugs aimed at specific molecular targets.
Women with lung cancer tend to do a little better than men. They also discovered that there is a subset of elderly patients would probably benefit from treatments that are normally reserved for younger patients.
The research team showed that women tend to have only a few cancer-promoting pathways activated in their tumours, where men may have twice as many.
In the study involving 787 patients with predominantly early stage non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), the most common form of the disease, the researchers identified any patterns linking the pathways to age, sex and time to recurrence.
They sorted the patients by age and sex and then again into low- and high-risk groups, based on five-year, recurrence-free survival.
They found that certain molecular pathways were more frequently activated in some groups than others and that certain pathway patterns were associated with better long-term survival in patients with lung cancer.
"People still don't realize how bad a disease this is," said Jeffrey Crawford, M.D., a study co-author and the chief of medical oncology at Duke.
"So being able to better understand the disease and stratify patients by their individual molecular profiles means we can do a much better job pairing the right drug with the right patient," Crawford added.