Nonsmokers who develop lung cancer are more likely than their smoking counterparts to have a mutation in a gene called EGFR, a new study shows. The discovery could be good news for these nonsmokers because tumors that have this genetic defect—which fosters aberrant cell growth—appear highly responsive to a drug called gefitinib.
The findings have already triggered genetic screening to identify which patients might benefit from the drug. Roughly 10 percent of people who develop lung cancer have never smoked. And, in the new study, almost half of such patients showed a mutation in some part of EGFR.
The Food and Drug Administration approved gefitinib as a lung cancer treatment in May 2003, even though the drug benefited only a small proportion of patients. In one study, 10 percent of people with advanced lung cancer experienced tumor shrinkage while taking gefitinib. Patients in another trial showed no gains from it. The FDA approved the drug