Exploring dysfunctional pathways, mechanisms, and biomarkers in lung cancers
to discover new insights into the progression of the disease.


of the total number of cancer-related deaths worldwide are caused by lung cancer1


Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the US2


5-year survival rate of lung cancer lung and bronchus cancer from diagnosis in the US3


Lung cancer (including tracheal and bronchus cancers) is the leading cause of overall cancer-related mortality throughout the world, accounting for 18.0% of the total number of cancer-related deaths.1 In the US, lung cancer has the second-highest incidence of all cancers in both men and women.4

There are two main categories of lung cancer: non-small cell lung cancer(NSCLC) and small cell lung cancer(SCLC).3


NSCLC is the most frequently occurring histologic subtype of lung cancer and accounts for >85% of all lung cancers.5-7 NSCLC can be further categorized into squamous (SQ) cell carcinoma and nonsquamous (NSQ) NSCLC, which includes adenocarcinoma; these categories are defined by the type of cancerous cells and the unique growth and spread of the malignancy: 2,8-10, 22

  • Adenocarcinoma: Cancer that begins in the cells that line the alveoli and make substances such as mucus, represents ~40%-50% of NSCLC 
  • Squamous cell carcinoma (also called epidermoid carcinoma): Represents ~25%-30% of NSCLC
  • Large cell (undifferentiated) carcinoma: Cancer that may begin in several types of large cells: Represents ~5%-10% of NSCLC
  • Other less common subtypes of NSCLC: adenosquamous carcinoma, sarcomatoid carcinoma, neuroendocrine tumors

Mechanism of Disease

Squamous NSCLCs arise centrally in thin, flat squamous cells within the large bronchi and are usually associated with smoking.10

Non-squamous NSCLC:1

  • Adenocarcinomas arise in the peripheral epithelial tissue and primarily have a lepidic, acinar, papillary, or mucinous morphology.8 Approximately 75% of adenocarcinomas are associated with smoking.10
  • Large cell carcinomas lack morphologic or immunohistochemistry evidence of clear lineage.2,8
  • Adenosquamous carcinomas are tumors with mixed adenocarcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma components, each being at least 10% of the tumor.2,8

Development involves a multistep process that includes multiple genetic and epigenetic alterations; in particular, activation of growth-promoting pathways and inhibition of tumor-suppressing pathways.2,11-13

  • The most common targetable genomic alterations in lung adenocarcinoma are KRAS- and EGFR-activating mutations, followed by ALK and ROS1 rearrangements; BRAF mutations; MET exon 14 skipping mutations and MET amplifications; RET gene fusions; and HER2 mutations. NTRK and NRG1 gene fusions rarely occur in NSCLC.23

Dysregulation of DNA repair is also associated with platinum resistance in NSCLC and significantly correlates with the relative risk of death in patients with NSCLC who are treated with chemotherapy.14,15

  • Significantly correlates with the relative risk of death in patients with NSCLC who are treated with chemotherapy

Diagnosis & Staging

All NSCLC should be classified into specific pathologic subtypes based on the specific histologic and genetic characteristics of the patient's tumor using the 2015 World Health Organization(WHO) Guidelines.8 In the era of personalized medicine and targeted therapies, genetic characteristics can determine eligibility for certain types of molecular testing and therapeutic strategies.8 International guidelines recommend testing patients with NSCLC for select immune and molecular biomarkers (genomic alterations) that may have a predictive or prognostic value.2,39, 40

Challenges in Treatment

Most patients (>65%) present with Stage III or IV disease at diagnosis,16 which is a strong predictor of poor prognosis: 5-year survival rates of 36% for Stage IIIA, ≤26% for Stages IIIB/IIIC, and ≤10% for Stage IV. 17

  • Advanced lung cancer patients typically have poor performance status at diagnosis and cannot tolerate aggressive chemotherapy.18
  • Choice of treatment is often driven by biomarkers associated with the patient's specific tumor biology.

Squamous and non-squamous histologies may react differently to similar therapies.

Some therapies may have different safety profiles and clinical outcomes depending on the histologic subtype of NSCLC present.

Predicting who will respond to immunotherapy targeting PD-1 and PD-L1 has proven to be difficult. There remains a need to discover new predictive immunotherapy biomarkers.2

At least one third of patients with NSCLC have genomic alterations that will influence treatment selection. These patients should receive first-line therapy targeting the oncogene such as EGFR TKIs, ALK inhibitors, ROS1 inhibitors, BRAF inhibitors, KRAS inhibitors, and MET kinase inhibitors.2,22

In patients with no known actionable mutations, single-agent immunotherapy is recommended as first-line therapy, if PD-L1 expression is high (≥50%).2,22 For those with low (<50%) or negative (<1%) levels of PD-L1 expression, immunotherapy plus chemotherapy or chemotherapy alone are recommended.2,24

For patients who do not harbor a targetable biomarker, strategies to improve the efficacy of chemotherapy is an unmet need.19,20 Combination therapies also hold promise to address the unmet need of treatment for patients unfit or resistant/refractory to current treatment options for NSCLC.21

Relevant Cancer Targets:


Learn about c-Met and its role in proliferation, cell survival, migration and invasivenessMORE>


Learn about PTPN2/N1 and their role in the immune system. MORE>


Learn about GARP and TGF-β1 and their role in the immune system. MORE>


Learn about PD-1 and its role in the immune system. MORE>

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  2. National Comprehensive Cancer Network, Inc. NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines®) for Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer V.5.2019..
  3. National Cancer Institute: Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program. Cancer Stat Facts: Lung and Bronchus Cancer. Accessed March 2024.
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