Patients with squamous cell lung cancer may have a reason to smile. Researchers may have found some promising results for a new type of treatment. Yay. Read more below.


For the tens of thousands of patients with that cancer — squamous cell lung cancer — the results are promising because they could foretell a new type of treatment in which drugs are tailored to match the genetic abnormality in each patient, researchers say.
“This is a disease where there are no targeted therapies,” said Dr. Matthew Meyerson of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, referring to modern drugs that attack genetic abnormalities. He is a lead author of the paper, with more than 300 authors, being published online in the journal Nature on Sunday. “What we found will change the landscape for squamous cell carcinoma. I think it gives hope to patients,” he said.
The study is part of the Cancer Genome Atlas, a large project by the National Institutes of Health to examine genetic abnormalities in cancer. The study of squamous cell lung cancer is the second genetic analysis of a common cancer, coming on the heels of a study of colon cancer. The work became feasible only in the past few years because of enormous advances in DNA sequencing that allow researchers to scan all the DNA in a cell instead of looking at its 21,000 genes one at a time. The result has been a new appreciation of cancer as a genetic disease, defined by DNA alterations that drive a cancer cell’s growth, instead of a disease of a particular tissue or organ, like breast or prostate or lung.
And, in keeping with the genetic view of cancer, in this study of squamous cell lung cancer, no one mutation stood out — different patients had different mutations.
As a result, the usual way of testing drugs by giving them to everyone with a particular type of cancer no longer makes sense. So researchers are planning a new type of testing program for squamous cell cancer that will match the major genetic abnormality in each patient with a drug designed to attack it, a harbinger of what many say will be the future of cancer research.
Squamous cell lung cancer, second in frequency only to adenocarcinoma of the lung, kills about 50,000 people each year. That is more than are killed by breast cancer, colon cancer or prostate cancer. While as many as 30 percent of adenocarcinoma patients never smoked, well over 90 percent of squamous cell cancer patients are or were smokers.