Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) makes up about 15% of lung cancer cases (the other 85% is non-small cell lung cancer) with around 30,000 Americans being diagnosed each year. 98% of SCLC cases are smoking-related (majority of those diagnosed being former smokers). With smoking rates decreasing in the past several decades, so have rates of SCLC. The current standard of care for patients diagnosed with SCLC is chemotherapy and radiation (surgery can be an option if diagnosed at an early stage), but new treatments like immunotherapy are now a promising option.
In case you missed the “New Directions in Small Cell Lung Cancer” webinar, we have you covered! We sat down with Leora Horn, MD, MSc, FRCPC, Clinical Director of the Thoracic Oncology Program at Vanderbilt University Medical Center to learn about the latest in treatment and advancements. We were also joined by two SCLC survivors, Dr. Antoinette Forster and Nina Beaty, who spoke about their personal experiences and coping techniques for managing symptoms and side effects of the disease.
Here are the key takeaways from the discussion!
The Latest in Treatment and Advances (Dr. Horn)
- Bottom line: We have made progress in the field of treatment and research for SCLC. There are multiple trials taking place for both early and late stage SCLC patients with new treatments like immunotherapy. There is great promise for the near future!
- Immunotherapy is a type of treatment that works with your immune system to fight the cancer. In recent years, it has shown promising results for non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and now being explored in SCLC
- PD-L1 is a protein on cells that has shown to be more responsive to immunotherapy treatment; PD-L1 expression is lower in SCLC compared to NSCLC, however studies are showing that immunotherapy is improving results for patients
- In August, 2018, the first immunotherapy drug, OPDIVO (nivolumab), was approved by the FDA as a third line treatment for patients with small cell lung cancer
- Not approved by the FDA (but moving that direction), an immunotherapy, TECENTRIQ (atezolizumab), combined with chemotherapy as a first treatment has shown better overall survival than chemotherapy alone in patients with late stage SCLC
- Other Promising Treatments
- Antibody Drug Conjugates (ADC), antibodies that recognize an antigen present on a tumor cell and target a drug right to the tumor, have shown activity in patients with SCLC with ongoing trials currently underway
- Lurbinectedin, a new anti-cancer drug, has shown promise in the second line (by itself and in combinations with chemotherapy) and studies are ongoing comparing it to standard of care
- What’s Next?
- Reliable biomarker/s are still needed for SCLC
- Research is underway to determine who exactly will benefit the most from new treatments
- Antoinette (Tonie) Forster, a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner, was diagnosed in 1992 with SCLC at the age of 38. As a long-term survivor, she found the journey to be a sometimes frightening but interesting experience. Guilt was the most difficult part of the experience because she was a smoker for many years and blamed herself for the diagnosis. 26 years ago, there weren’t many treatment options and information on the disease was dismal. She received six months of chemotherapy treatment and 45 rounds of radiation. She always maintained hope, even in the toughest times, through the support and love of her husband, family and friends. She found calming practices like meditation to be very helpful in coping with anxiety and fear. She has been cancer free for 26 years.
- Nina Beaty, an art therapist, is a five year SCLC survivor. Her mother had been diagnosed ten years earlier, which triggered her interest in pursuing a CT scan. Thanks to early detection, she was able to find her cancer at an early stage. She received both chemotherapy and radiation treatment. Six months after her diagnosis, her cancer metastasized. She enrolled in a clinical trial for the immunotherapy drug, OPDIVO. The treatment was a success and she continued on it until a couple years ago when she experienced some gastrointestinal problems. She has been cancer free ever since! Art helped Nina cope with her feelings through the process. She later used her skills to create animated emojis that touch on feelings from her personal lung cancer experience (ones she was not able to express through the typical emojis on her phone) to help others express themselves.
You can download EmPat emojis at your iPhone of Android app store! Learn more.
Tips from Survivors:
- Find ways to manage anxiety through practices like meditation
- Focus on others (become a Phone Buddy and offer hope to someone newly diagnosed)
- Trust yourself that you are making the best decision you can with the info you have at the time
- Be kind to yourself – don’t let other’s judgement effect you; it’s your cancer not theirs
- Find support your way through friends, support groups, etc.
- Let others help you
Questions about small cell lung cancer, treatment, symptoms and side effects, etc.? Contact our support staff by calling our HelpLine at 1-800-298-2436 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.