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Targeted Therapy for Lung Cancer

No two lung cancers are the same — which is why targeted therapy has been such a revolution in cancer care. Targeted therapy can help you live longer with an improved quality of life. We offer fast access to these advanced treatments, including a groundbreaking blood test that identifies tumor targets in about a week.

What Is Targeted Therapy for Lung Cancer?

When you have cancer, certain cells don't work properly because of changes in DNA (mutations). These mutations (molecular targets) cause the cells to grow out of control. In lung cancer, these abnormal cancer cells first form in lung tissues.

Targeted therapy uses powerful drugs to fix these genetic abnormalities. These medicines shrink the cancer and stop its growth.

Up to 30 percent of lung cancer patients can have molecular targets that respond to targeted therapy. Osimertinib, crizotinib and bevacizumab are some of the targeted therapy drugs used to treat lung cancer.

Targeted therapy is also known as precision medicine or personalized medicine. Read more about targeted molecular therapy at the Abramson Cancer Center.

Targeted Therapy at the Abramson Cancer Center: What to Expect

To select the right drugs, our lung cancer specialists perform genetic tests to identify the cancer's molecular targets. We test our patients for these targets through our Center for Personalized Diagnostics.

Normally, tumor tissue removed during a biopsy provides this information. At the Abramson Cancer Center, we also offer a revolutionary new way to test for molecular targets: analysis of circulating tumor DNA, or liquid biopsy.

Liquid biopsy is a simple blood test that can identify molecular targets. The test gives answers in about a week, compared to two to six weeks for traditional sequencing.

If you have molecular targets, you are prescribed a pill that you take at home while living your normal life. Most patients feel better within days of starting the medication.

Bill and Ralph's Lung Cancer Journey

Married Florida residents Bill Cain and Ralph Madden were shocked when routine screenings revealed both had lung cancer. But a previous experience with Penn Medicine for urological surgery made the 1,000-mile trip to the Abramson Cancer Center a no brainer. "[It was] worth every mile in the air and on the road." Read Bill and Ralph's lung cancer story.

Why Choose Penn Medicine's Abramson Cancer Center for Targeted Therapy

From the moment we meet you, we are thinking about how we can personalize your treatment. Your care team — from your oncology-certified nurse navigator to your medical oncologist — takes the time to get to know you and anticipate your needs. Your care is more effective as a result.

You also benefit from:

  • Dedicated pulmonary pathologists: We are one of the only places in Philadelphia with dedicated pulmonary pathologists. They are specialists in analyzing lung tissue, so you receive a detailed diagnosis. As a result, your treatment plan is often more effective and personalized to you. Learn more about lung cancer diagnosis.
  • Leaders in targeted therapy: Our doctors helped develop, test and refine liquid biopsy. By improving the way tumors are analyzed, they've increased the number of people who can benefit from targeted therapy.
  • Faster treatment: Every second counts with lung cancer. Through liquid biopsies, patients start targeted treatment up to five weeks sooner than traditional tumor sequencing.
  • Side effect management: Targeted therapy side effects can include diarrhea, rash and liver problems. Our Oncology Evaluation Center (OEC) provides urgent care for treatment side effects and other issues. Find out more about our urgent care for lung cancer treatment side effects.
  • Help paying for medications: Targeted medications can be expensive. If you have trouble paying for them, we can help you apply for a free drug program through the manufacturer. See more lung cancer support groups and services.

Can Targeted Therapy Cure Cancer?

Targeted therapy has the potential to cure the cancer, but it also has limitations. Like viruses, some cancers mutate and develop a resistance to certain drugs. When this happens, the targeted therapy no longer works. To combat this:

  • We constantly update our understanding of your health and the biology of the tumor. We may perform repeat liquid biopsies to look for newly discovered targets.
  • Some patients receive targeted therapies in combination with other drugs.
  • Our researchers are looking for new molecular targets and drugs through clinical trials for lung cancer.