Molecular Testing in Lung Cancer Q & A


What is molecular testing, and why is it important for people with lung cancer?

Previously thought of as one singular disease, lung cancer is now known to comprise many different subtypes based on the genetic characteristics of each tumor. There are several different molecular drivers of lung cancer, which can be determined by testing tumor samples.

Through molecular testing of lung cancer tumors, doctors can determine whether there are identifiable genetic mutations or alterations driving the cancer, which may enable them to better understand each patient’s individual cancer and determine an appropriate treatment plan. Increasingly, the cancer field is moving away from a one-size-fits-all approach to one that targets specific genetic abnormalities.

How can I get tested? What can I expect from the test?

Lung cancer patients interested in molecular testing should talk with their doctors.

Molecular testing in lung cancer is usually done on tumor tissue obtained through a biopsy or surgery. If you’ve already had part of a tumor removed, your doctor may be able to use that existing tissue sample for molecular testing. If not, or if your doctor does not have an adequate tumor sample to test, you may need to undergo another procedure. Once there is enough tumor tissue to test, a pathologist can determine its molecular characteristics.

Where can I get tested?

Molecular testing is available at many cancer centers and diagnostic labs across the country. For more information talk with your doctor.

How much does testing cost? Does insurance cover it?

The cost of molecular testing varies depending on the test. There are a variety of tests available. Insurance may cover part or all of the cost of molecular testing. Speak with your doctor about which tests may be appropriate for you.

How will the results of testing affect my treatment plan?

Some drugs have been developed to treat specific lung cancer subtypes. Some are FDA-approved, whereas others are currently under investigation. Both the presence and the absence of specific biomarkers may be taken into consideration when determining an appropriate treatment plan, including participation in a clinical trial.

What questions should I ask my doctor about molecular testing?

  • Can you explain the benefits and the risks of molecular testing?
  • What genetic changes may be driving my lung cancer?
  • Am I a candidate for molecular testing?
  • Can you use an existing tissue sample for my molecular testing?
  • How would learning about my molecular profile affect my treatment plan?
  • What if I don’t have any identifiable biomarkers? Would that affect my treatment plan?

*Lung Cancer Profiles is a collaboration among Pfizer Oncology and Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation, Lung Cancer Alliance, Lung Cancer Foundation of America, LUNGevity, the National Lung Cancer Partnership, and Uniting Against Lung Cancer.