Targeted Therapies Improve Prognosis for Lung Cancer Patients

Ravi Salgia, Livia Szeto, and lung cancer patient and wife
Medical oncologist Ravi Salgia, MD, PhD, left, and research nurse Livia Szeto, RN, OCN, center left, meet with a lung cancer patient and his wife.

Lung cancer kills more people than any other cancer and has an overall 5-year survival rate of only 16 percent, according to the American Cancer Society.

The University of Chicago Medicine lung cancer program offers hope to many lung cancer patients because of the state-of-the-art, individualized therapies offered in clinical trials.

D. Kyle Hogarth, MD, and Wickii Vigeneswaran, MD Pulmonologist D. Kyle Hogarth, MD, left, and thoracic surgeon Wickii Vigneswaran, MD, right, are also members of the UChicago Medicine lung cancer care team.

"We find innovative therapies that are more effective and less toxic," said Ravi Salgia, MD, PhD, vice chair for translational research, director of the thoracic oncology program, and the associate director for translational sciences in the University of Chicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center.

"What's nice about the lung cancer program here is that we're an incredibly cohesive, collaborative group," Salgia said, who regularly collaborates with thoracic surgeons, pathologists, pulmonologists, radiologists, radiation oncologists, neuro-oncologists, and others to ensure patients quickly receive quality care from a multidisciplinary team.

Leaders in Innovation

Teaching plays a large part in the lung cancer program's success. UChicago Medicine regularly hosts lung cancer symposia and participates in national cooperative groups, such as the Alliance for Clinical Trials in Oncology.

"Lung cancer is still a very difficult disease for many of our patients, but we are coming up with innovative ways of treating it."
--Ravi Salgia, MD, PhD

Teaching and collaborating are further enhanced by technology -- another of the lung cancer program's strengths. Recently, Salgia worked with the company CollabRx to develop a web application, the Targeted Therapy Finder-Lung Cancer, that allows doctors and patients to search for available therapies and clinical trials based on the patient's unique case.

Salgia's group has also engineered an informatics program with a single database that merges clinical and research data. The information helps physicians apply discoveries made in the laboratory at the patient's bedside, and it helps researchers make meaningful analyses of tumor specimens.

The lung cancer program also shares knowledge and resources with affiliate institutions in the Chicago area -- including NorthShore University Health System and Ingalls Health System.

"Through our network, our expertise in clinical medicine, as well as translational and basic research, is unparalleled," Salgia said.

Improved Survival through Clinical Trials

Although the 5-year survival rate for lung cancer is lower than for many other cancers, Salgia said he is optimistic. "Previously, if somebody had advanced stage lung cancer, we wouldn't have any other therapies available beyond first-line treatment," he said. "Now, I can think of a fifth, sixth, or seventh-line therapy, which is phenomenal."

Improved survival rates are primarily due to molecularly targeted therapies, such as the breakthrough drug crizotinib (Xalkori®), which targets the translocated anaplastic lymphoma kinase gene. UChicago Medicine was one of the first sites to offer clinical trials for crizotinib, which has helped a large number of lung cancer patients with minimal side effects.

"Lung cancer is still a very difficult disease for many of our patients, but we are coming up with innovative ways of treating it," Dr. Salgia said. "I see the light at the end of the tunnel."

This feature originally appeared in Pathways to Discovery, a publication of the University of Chicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center.


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