In 2002 results of two-phase II studies with the new epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) tyrosine kinase inhibitor (TKI) gefitinib showed not only promising efficacy in second and third line non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) therapies but also an excellent tolerability. Since then, thousands of patients have been treated in one of the largest expanded access programs ever performed and the successful application in daily routine led to a preliminary approval of the drug by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2003. In the light of the negative results of a subsequent phase III trial comparing gefitinib with best supportive care, the approval was withdrawn. In 2009 gefitinib was relaunched for Caucasian patients in the US and Europe based on new data and on the re-interpretation of previous studies. The approval is now recommended exclusively for patients with an activating EGFR mutation. For the first time in lung cancer, molecular work-up is of clinical relevance and will change the diagnostic and therapeutic algorithms. The present review summarizes these data, presents the rationale for this development and proposes a diagnostic work-up.
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