July 27 (UPI) -- A study by the University of Colorado Cancer Center found approximately 3 percent of lung cancer patients are found to have the HER2 breast cancer driver gene.
Researchers found that 24 of 920 patients with advanced-stage lung cancer had mutations on the HER2 gene.
The study, published in the July edition of Cancer, found 71 percent of those lung cancer patients, with a median age of 62, were never-smokers.
HER2 is a known driver of breast cancer, so therapies have been developed to specifically target HER2 mutations in breast cancer patients as a way to treat the cancer.
"In this study, outcomes for HER2-positive lung cancer patients treated with conventional therapies were similar to outcomes for HER2-negative patients treated in the same way. But the question remains: What would the outcomes have been for these patients if they had gotten HER2-directed therapy?" Dr. Paul Bunn Jr., professor at the University of Colorado Cancer Center and professor of Lung Cancer Research at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, said in a press release.
Researchers are evaluating the use of HER2-directed therapy in lung cancer by identifying a significant population of HER2+ lung cancer patients in clinical trials.
Early results have shown that of the 24 patients with the HER2 mutation, 12 received HER2-directed therapy and 12 received traditional therapies such as chemotherapy.
Patients who received the HER2-directed therapy had a median survival of 2.1 years compared to patients receiving traditional therapy with 1.4 years median survival.
"These treatments seem to have activity, but there just aren't enough patients to know for sure whether HER2-directed therapy is better than giving chemotherapy, or if one HER2 treatment is better than another," Bunn said.
HER2 is closely associated with the lung cancer driver EGFR, and both genes code proteins to act as growth factor receptors spurring rapid cell growth like in cancer.
Researchers have seen success at treating EGFR lung cancer with EGFR inhibitors that also are effective against lung cancers that over express EGFR and HER2.