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Expert Explains Limitations of Molecular Profiling in Lung Cancer

Caroline Seymour
Published: Thursday, Aug 09, 2018

Dara L. Aisner, MD, PhD

Dara L. Aisner, MD, PhD

Though testing for molecular abnormalities can determine a course of treatment for patients with non–small cell lung cancer, it can also muddle their treatment options if not examined properly, explained Dara L. Aisner, MD, PhD.

“When sorting out the results, it’s not just looking at the top of the report and saying, ‘this is the result or it's negative,’” said Aisner. “It's understanding the testing well enough to understand what a negative really means and what a positive really means.”

In an interview during the 2018 OncLive® State of the Science Summit™ on Advanced Non–Small Cell Lung Cancer, Aisner, an associate professor in the department of Pathology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, discussed the rapidly progressing field of molecular profiling, the importance of understanding assay results, and how they translate to patient care in lung cancer.

OncLive: What did your presentation on molecular profiling focus on?

Aisner: Some of the things that I wanted to [express] in my presentation are understanding the limitations of testing and understanding that no test is perfect.

If you don't feel like you have the technical expertise, it's very possible to seek it out and get the guidance you need either on a case-by-case basis or in a more systematic way. Getting that kind of assistance can help a lot. I have a lot of examples in which I was consulted on a report and [the physician will focus on] result A, whereas I’ll focus on result D. I know it's at the bottom of the page, but it is the more important finding.

Even more important than those sorts of examples are ones where I get asked [the next steps on] a test that came back all negative. It is important to look at what was tested. What questions are being asked and, more importantly, what questions are not being asked?

Another point is that technologies are evolving very rapidly. What is exciting and interesting today is not going to be what we're talking about in a few years. There's a balance to be had between jumping for a test because it's new and “hot,” versus going for data that are well established. There's a real middle ground in between those 2 extremes.

Can you elaborate on some of the cases you consulted on?

A lot of this has to do with the fact that this is a relatively new area for oncologists. When many people who are in practice now went to medical school, this was not part of practice. It's something that we are incorporating into the training of oncologists today, but even in that setting the technology is so complex.

This is where the multidisciplinary team becomes important. Having somebody who understands the technical aspects of the test in very fine detail as part of a multidisciplinary team can be advantageous. This is about education, learning how to read the reports, and learning when you need help in digging deeper. As we mature in our use of this type of testing, we will see that people will get better at figuring out how to go from a report to what this means for my patients.

How should these tests be conducted?

The “how” is really the elephant in the room for most people. It's really challenging, because on one hand you want to do what's easiest and fastest. On the other hand, if you don't necessarily know all of the technical details, you don't know if the [test] that is billed will answer all of the questions you want answered.

The “how” has to be centered around the goal for the patient. If a patient is frail with poor performance status, getting a huge test that may make them eligible for clinical trials perhaps isn't the right approach. Conversely, if you have [a patient] who is very aggressive about wanting to treat their disease, perhaps you want to be more comprehensive from the outset. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach.

Does the time of assessing PD-L1 and tumor mutational burden make a difference?

I don't think we have answered that yet. Pretty much all of the studies that have been done have looked at those values before immunotherapy treatment. There have been some discussions about [whether] immunotherapy is more effective in the neoadjuvant versus adjuvant setting.


View Conference Coverage
Online CME Activities
TitleExpiration DateCME Credits
Community Practice Connections™: 18th Annual International Lung Cancer Congress®Oct 31, 20181.5
Clinical Interchange™: Translating Research to Inform Changing Paradigms: Assessment of Emerging Immuno-Oncology Strategies and Combinations across Lung, Head and Neck, and Bladder CancersOct 31, 20182.0
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