The BRAF gene codes for a protein called B-RAF. Mutations in this gene are present in several cancers, including non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). BRAF-positive NSCLC behaves differently than other types of lung cancer.

A mutation is a change in the way a gene behaves or functions. Several mutations are present in certain types of cancer, including non-small cell lung cancer. Researchers have found a BRAF mutation called the V600E mutation in many cancers, including non-small cell lung cancer, colorectal cancer, melanoma, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

BRAF-positive non-small cell lung cancer is fairly uncommon, accounting for about 4% of NSCLC diagnoses. Identifying BRAF mutations in lung cancer may help with determining the right treatment options.

Traditional chemotherapy does not work well for BRAF-positive cancer, but newer treatments that target the mutation may increase survival time.

Read on to learn more about BRAF mutations and NSCLC, including treatment options and the outlook for NSCLC.

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B-RAF is a protein in the MAP kinase pathway, which is responsible for regulating cell growth. Cancer occurs when cells grow out of control and at a faster, more aggressive rate than usual.

Mutations in the BRAF gene increase the risk of problems with the regulation of cell growth. This can lead to certain kinds of cancer. There are different types of BRAF mutations. One mutation, V600E, frequently appears in different types of cancer.

When a cancer is BRAF positive, it means there is a mutation in the BRAF gene in the cells of the cancer.

Non-small cell lung cancer means that, compared to small cell lung cancer, the cells of the cancer appear larger under a microscope. NSCLC refers to a group of different cancers rather than a single type of cancer.

Non-small cell lung cancer includes three subtypes of cancer:

  • adenocarcinoma: a type of lung cancer that grows in newly developing cells that secrete mucus
  • squamous cell carcinoma: a type of cancer that begins in cells that form the lining of the bronchi of the lungs
  • large cell carcinoma: a type of lung cancer that begins in several different larger cells

Adenocarcinoma is the most common type of non-small cell lung cancer.

All types of lung cancer and NSCLC involve normal cells growing out of control. This can damage the lungs and spread to nearby organs.

Non-small cell lung cancer has a higher survival rate, on average, than small cell lung cancer. Survival rates are significantly better with early detection.

Smoking is a major risk factor for both NSCLC and small cell lung cancer. It is also a risk factor for BRAF-positive NSCLC. However, some research suggests that non-V600E mutations are more common in those who smoke. Smoking status may also affect how well a person responds to treatment.

Learn more about NSCLC here.

BRAF-positive non-small cell lung cancer means that lung cancer tests positive for a BRAF mutation under a microscope. The most common mutation is V600E. However, other mutations may also be present in NSCLC.

BRAF-positive lung cancer is rare, but it is more common in some groups, including women and people who have never smoked. Despite this, smoking remains an important risk factor for all lung cancers, including BRAF-positive NSCLC. According to research published in 2022, non-V600E BRAF mutations may be more common in people who currently smoke or have smoked in the past.

Research generally shows that BRAF-positive NSCLC does not respond as well to traditional chemotherapy. However, several studies establishing this link have not shown statistical significance, which means that knowing a cancer is BRAF positive may not provide reliable guidance about how well it will respond to chemotherapy.

Research also shows that people with certain mutations driving their lung cancer, including BRAF V600E mutations, may have a better outlook than those without any treatable mutations.

Newer targeted treatments target specific genetic mutations in BRAF-positive NSCLC.

For NSCLC in stages 1, 2, or 3, treatment focuses on curing it, which means completely removing the cancer. At more advanced stages, the focus is on prolonging life and reducing pain.

In general, NSCLC treatment depends on how far the cancer has progressed and a person’s overall health. It may include:

Traditional chemotherapy does not work as well in people with BRAF-positive NSCLC. However, newer targeted therapies specifically address the mutation, offering promise for more effective treatment. Specific outcomes vary depending on the treatment researchers use and the security of the cancer.

A 2019 study showed that the drug vemurafenib increased progression-free survival among patients with BRAF V600E NSCLC to 7.3 months. Progression-free survival means a patient has cancer, but it has not grown or spread any further.

In another study, with a combination of dabrafenib and trametinib, survival rates increased to a median of 18.2 months. This compares with 12.7 months with dabrafenib only and just a few months with traditional chemotherapy agents, based on prior research.

Doctors may recommend a combination of targeted therapies, chemotherapy, surgery, or radiation for BRAF NSCLC. Clinical trials are also available for some BRAF mutations.

The outlook depends on the staging of the cancer, a person’s overall health, and how well the tumor responds to treatment. Newer targeted therapies have improved the outlook for those with BRAF NSCLC.

The American Cancer Society reports the following 5-year overall survival rates for NSCLC. A 5-year survival rate is the percentage of people who are still alive 5 years after diagnosis:

  • localized: 64%
  • regional: 37%
  • distant: 8%
  • all stages combined: 26%

People should note that these figures are from patients who received treatment between 2011 and 2017, and treatment has improved since then.

Lung cancer can advance rapidly. Although catching the cancer early may be difficult, doing so can dramatically improve survival rates.

Early detection is critical to a person’s health and long-term survival, so people who have any cancer symptoms should speak with a doctor as quickly as possible.

With newer treatments, the outlook for BRAF NSCLC has improved. A person should discuss the best course of treatment with an oncologist.