Lung cancer: New biological insights and recent therapeutic advances

CA Cancer J Clin. Mar-Apr 2011;61(2):91-112. doi: 10.3322/caac.20102. Epub 2011 Feb 8.


Approximately 1.6 million new cases of lung cancer are diagnosed each year throughout the world. In many countries, the mortality related to lung cancer continues to rise. The outcomes for patients with all stages of lung cancer have improved in recent years. The use of systemic therapy in conjunction with local therapy has led to improved cure rates in both resectable and unresectable patient groups. For patients with advanced stage disease, modest but real improvements in overall survival and quality of life have been achieved with systemic chemotherapy. A major focus of research has been the development of molecularly targeted agents and the identification of biomarkers for patient selection. Patients with non-small cell lung cancer with mutations in the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) tyrosine kinase domain achieve response rates of greater than 70% and superior progression-free survival when treated with an EGFR tyrosine kinase inhibitor compared with standard chemotherapy. This has now emerged as the preferred therapeutic approach for the subset of patients with a mutation in exons 19 or 21 of the EGFR. Another promising targeted approach involves the use of an anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) inhibitor in patients with a translocation involving the echinoderm microtubule-associated protein-like 4 (EML4) and -ALK genes. Finally, a paradigm shift in favor of maintenance therapy for patients with advanced stage disease has gained strength from recent data. All of these advances have been made possible by developing a greater understanding of the biology, the discovery of novel anticancer agents, and improved supportive care measures. This article reviews the major strides made in the treatment of lung cancer in the recent past.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Lung Neoplasms / pathology
  • Lung Neoplasms / physiopathology
  • Lung Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic


  • Antineoplastic Agents