Treatment of advanced non small cell lung cancer
Lung cancer is the major cause of cancer death in the world. Non Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC) accounts approximately 80-85% of all lung cancer diagnosis; the majority of patients will be diagnosed with non operable, advanced-stage disease. Palliative chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy represent the standard of care of this disease. Platinum based doublets with third generation agents are considered the standard of first line advanced NSCLC treatment. However, data arising from the availability of pemetrexed suggest that histology could play a key role in decision making. Advances in understanding of the molecular pathogenesis of lung cancer have led to the identification of several specific targets such as vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) for therapeutic agents. Bevacizumab is the first recombinant humanized monoclonal antibody (mAb) binding VEGF to demonstrate clinical benefit and a rather survival prolongation in combination with chemotherapy in the treatment of non squamous chemo-naive advanced NSCLC patients. Two types of anti-EGFR targeting agents have reached advanced clinical development: mAbs and small molecule inhibitors of the EGFR tyrosine kinase enzymatic activity (TKIs). Among TKIs gefitinib has been tested in several phase II-III studies showing an improvement in survival and responses in first, second and third line treatment in selected patients with specific clinical and molecular characteristics. Furthermore, erlotinib has showed to significantly improve survival in an unselected population of patients following the failure of one or two chemotherapy regimens. This review will discuss the different therapeutic options for first and second line treatment in the clinical practice.