Gene therapy is a promising new method for treating non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). It allows doctors to target specific genes to prevent cancerous cells from growing and spreading.

NSCLC is a common form of cancer. It causes cancerous cells to form in the tissues of the lung. NSCLC is a serious condition. However, many people receive treatment and survive for years.

Treating NSCLC typically involves interacting with multiple specialists and receiving a combination of therapies. Specific treatment plans depend on factors that include the tumor size, type of NSCLC, and the extent of its spread to other organs.

Surgery, radiation or chemotherapy, and immunotherapy are examples of key techniques that doctors use to treat NSCLC.

Gene therapy is another promising treatment for NSCLC, which targets genes that contribute to the tumor.

There are two main approaches to using gene therapy to treat cancer:

  • targeted medications to stop or interfere with the genetic processes that cause tumors to form and continue growing
  • replacing the faulty gene with a healthy and fully functional copy

This article focuses on the second approach to NSCLC gene therapy. Read on to learn more.

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Getting genes into cells requires making vectors, which are vehicles that scientists engineer to deliver genetic materials. For example, viruses have a natural ability to deliver genetic material into cells and can act as vectors.

Scientists can deactivate parts of the virus that cause infectious diseases. They can then modify the virus to carry genetic material into cancerous cells.

One type of gene therapy for NSCLC targets tumor-suppressor genes, which are the most common gene mutation that contributes to the disease. Another approach involves restoring specific proteins to prevent disease progression.

Other possible applications include inserting genes that:

  • cause cancer cells to die
  • keep blood vessels from forming in tumors, slowing their growth
  • prevent the growth and spread of cancerous cells

NSCLC gene therapy is a new form of treatment. However, early results are promising.

A 2017 review suggests that restoring a functional tumor-suppressing gene could slow the growth of cancer cells. Clinical trials have found that inserting tumor-suppressing genes into people who had not responded to other treatments reduced tumor size by up to 50%.

Another review in 2016 suggests that the treatment is more effective when combining NSCLC gene therapy with other therapies, such as chemotherapy or immunotherapy.

According to the American Cancer Society, doctors typically use gene therapy for advanced cancer cases.

NSCLC gene therapy is a new technique. However, it still has to meet rigorous Food and Drug Administration (FDA) standards for safety and effectiveness before a doctor can recommend it.

Gene therapies that the FDA approves are safe. However, they can have side effects, such as:

According to the FDA, gene therapies can transform medicine and provide options for people with illnesses that were previously without a cure. However, every treatment has limitations to its effectiveness.

Some limitations to gene therapy include:

  • genetic mutations that cause cancer involve multiple genes
  • safe and reliable methods of delivering gene therapy are challenging to engineer
  • there is a need for caution and extensive testing before these treatments reach approval, which will delay their availability to people who might need them
  • the treatments are still new and lack data on how effective these treatments are over time

Doctors will typically develop a treatment plan with people who have NSCLC depending on their health, age, and other relevant factors. Some common forms of NSCLC treatment include:

Doctors may combine these treatments to maximize their effectiveness. This will involve undergoing multiple treatments at once or back-to-back treatments, or both.

For example, doctors may use a therapy to treat cancer in one part of the body and another therapy to treat where it is spreading.

Doctors typically describe the outlook for people with cancer using the percentage of people alive at least 5 years after their diagnosis. This is the 5-year survival rate. They may further break down 5-year survival rates according to specific NSCLC diagnoses.

According to the American Cancer Society, the 5-year survival rate for people with NSCLC are:

  • 63% for localized NSCLC, which means that the tumor has not spread
  • 35% for regional NSCLC, which means that the tumor has spread to nearby organs
  • 7% for distant NSCLC, which means that cancerous cells are present far from the original tumor
  • 25% for all NSCLC diagnoses together

NSCLC is a common form of lung cancer in the United States. Gene therapy for people with NSCLC is a promising new treatment that targets specific genes that contribute to disease progression. There is evidence that gene therapy can slow the growth of tumors in people with NSCLC.

Gene therapy is new, but has the potential to change the way doctors can treat cancer. Scientists and doctors must first overcome limitations, including finding reliable methods to deliver gene therapy.