New chemotherapy approaches: Clinical trials are currently investigating the use of neoadjuvant treatments (chemotherapy or a combination of chemotherapy and radiation before surgery) for early stage lung cancer. Other clinical trials are testing new chemotherapy drugs, while other studies are testing whether the effectiveness of existing chemotherapeutic drugs can be improved by combining them with each other or with radiation therapy.
Vaccines, manufactured from the patient's own tumor cells or a protein common to lung cancer cells, are presently under investigation. They use the body's immune system to fight lung cancer. The goal is to cause the immune system to recognize some of the abnormal substances in lung cancer cells and as a result, kill these cells.
Specially designed antibodies are being produced in the laboratory that can be injected into patients to seek out lung cancer cells. Toxins or radioactive atoms can be attached to these antibodies, so that the cell-killing chemicals or radiation is targeted specifically to the cancer cells, preventing destruction of healthy cells of the body. These specialized (monoclonal) antibodies are being studied in clinical trials alone and in combination with standard chemotherapy regimens.
Special drugs called angiogenesis inhibitors are being studied in clinical trials, alone and in combination with standard chemotherapy regimens. These agents are designed to block the formation of blood vessels to the tumor, thereby starving and, hopefully, killing them.
Small molecules are being designed to specifically target and interfere with some aspect of tumor cell function. One such example is an experimental compound called ZD1839 (Iressa), an inhibitor of the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), which is present on the tumors of some patients with nonsmall-cell lung cancer.