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  Table of Contents  
Year : 2021  |  Volume : 58  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 3-4

Epidermal growth factor receptor mutated lung cancers: Looking beyond adenocarcinomas

Department of Internal Medicine, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN, USA

Date of Submission30-Jul-2019
Date of Decision16-Oct-2019
Date of Acceptance16-Oct-2019
Date of Web Publication24-Nov-2020

Correspondence Address:
Saurabh Zanwar
Department of Internal Medicine, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/ijc.IJC_686_19

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How to cite this article:
Zanwar S. Epidermal growth factor receptor mutated lung cancers: Looking beyond adenocarcinomas. Indian J Cancer 2021;58:3-4

How to cite this URL:
Zanwar S. Epidermal growth factor receptor mutated lung cancers: Looking beyond adenocarcinomas. Indian J Cancer [serial online] 2021 [cited 2022 May 23];58:3-4. Available from:

The discovery of mutations in the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) mutations in metastatic non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) has been a focal point in changing the treatment landscape of these tumors.[1] There is abundance of data with regard to the prevalence of EGFR mutation and the efficacy of small molecule tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) in targeting these driver mutations in metastatic adenocarcinomas (ADCs) of the lung.[2] The EGFR mutation rate in ADCs varies substantially with the population under study, with the prevalence being the lowest in the Northern American and European studies ranging from 10 to 15%, to approximately 25% in Indian setting and to an even higher prevalence in studies from Eastern Asia.[3] This marked heterogeneity in the mutation profile across patients with different ethnicities makes it tricky to interpret these data from a non-representative study population and apply them into practice. An even more contentious issue is whether to perform the testing for EGFR mutations in metastatic squamous cell carcinomas (SCC) of the lung, for which the jury is still out. These factors make it imperative to use data from indigenous patient population in making decisions in patients with NSCLCs.

While the EGFR mutation rate in SCCs is definitely much lower compared to their counterpart with ADCs, this still represents a substantial number of patients. A previous Indian study of 639 consecutive metastatic SCCs of the lung that were confirmed by immunohistochemistry (IHC) in addition to the histologic diagnosis of SCCs demonstrated the prevalence of EGFR mutation to be around 4.5% in this patient population.[4] To put this in context, the prevalence of anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) mutations, testing for which is routinely performed in all metastatic ADCs, is not much higher at 4–8%.[8]

However, there is still reluctance among providers to test EGFR mutation in SCCs. Case in point, a recent survey of 111 tertiary care centers from India has suggested that only 40% of the centers recommend EGFR mutation testing in SCCs of lung.[5] This finding is not surprising at all given the skepticism surrounding the data for the frequency of EGFR mutations and the efficacy of TKIs in SCCs. A recent single center study from Northern India looks at EGFR mutations in NSCLCs in both ADC and non-ADC histology.[6] The study included 250 patients (out of a potential 530 patients) with NSCLC in whom EGFR mutation results were available and demonstrated an EGFR mutation rate of ~36% in ADCs and ~15% in SCCs.[6] While the relatively small sample size can certainly lead to wide confidence intervals giving exaggerated numbers, a rate of 15% EGFR-mutated SCCs still seems rather high and can be attributed to the lack of immunohistochemistry (IHC) correlation to confirm pure SCC status in all biopsies, the heterogeneity of the types of specimens itself on which the EGFR testing was performed, and the sensitivity of the EGFR assay in different settings.[4]

Patients with adenosquamous histology need to be excluded from the SCC group while analyzing prevalence of EGFR mutations, which has often been the confounder for high EGFR mutation rates in SCCs in previous similar studies.[7] The Indian study demonstrating a prevalence rate of 4.5% EGFR mutation positivity rate in SCCs did rightly exclude adenosquamous histology and it was of importance to note that only one-third of the cohort had a history of smoking.[4] On the same note, the National Comprehensive Cancer Guidelines recommend EGFR mutation in testing in SCCs that were never smokers or with a scant biopsy specimen, highlighting that missing potential adenosquamous tumors in these situations is a likely possibility.[8]

Going forward it would be prudent to look at the success rates of repeat biopsy upon progression on TKIs and report the frequency of T790M mutations, especially in EGFR-mutated SCCs, for which there is currently very limited data.[9],[10] Collaborative efforts for such rare subsets of patients are the need of the hour and will go a long way in providing valuable information to further improve the care for our patients.

  References Top

Malik PS, Raina V. Lung cancer: prevalent trends & emerging concepts. Indian J Med Res 2015;141:5-7.  Back to cited text no. 1
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Li N, Yang L, Ou W, Zhang L, Zhang SL, Wang SY. Meta-analysis of EGFR tyrosine kinase inhibitors compared with chemotherapy as second-line treatment in pretreated advanced non-small cell lung cancer. PloS One 2014;9:e102777.  Back to cited text no. 2
Chougule A, Prabhash K, Noronha V, Joshi A, Thavamani A, Chandrani P, et al. Frequency of EGFR mutations in 907 lung adenocarcioma patients of Indian ethnicity. PloS One 2013;8:e76164.  Back to cited text no. 3
Joshi A, Zanwar S, Noronha V, Patil VM, Chougule A, Kumar R, et al. EGFR mutation in squamous cell carcinoma of the lung: does it carry the same connotation as in adenocarcinomas? Onco Targets Ther 2017;10:1859-63.  Back to cited text no. 4
Prabhash K, Parikh PM, Rajappa SJ, Noronha V, Joshi A, Aggarwal S, et al. Patterns of epidermal growth factor receptor testing across 111 tertiary care centers in India: Result of a questionnaire-based survey. South Asian J Cancer 2018;7:203-6.  Back to cited text no. 5
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Kumari N, Singh S, Haloi D, Mishra SK, Krishnani N, Nath A, et al. Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor Mutation Frequency in Squamous Cell Carcinoma and Its Diagnostic Performance in Cytological Samples: A Molecular and Immunohistochemical Study. World J Oncol 2019;10:142-50.  Back to cited text no. 6
Xu J, Zhang Y, Jin B, Chu T, Dong X, Yang H, et al. Efficacy of EGFR tyrosine kinase inhibitors for non-adenocarcinoma lung cancer patients harboring EGFR-sensitizing mutations in China. J Cancer Res Clin Oncol 2016;142:1325-30.  Back to cited text no. 7
Ettinger DS, Wood DE, Aisner DL, Akerley W, Bauman J, Chirieac LR, et al. Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer, Version 5.2017, NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology. J Natl Compr Canc Netw 2017;15:504-35.  Back to cited text no. 8
Zanwar S, Noronha V, Joshi A, Patil VM, Chougule A, Kumar R, et al. Repeat biopsy in epidermal growth factor receptor mutation-positive nonsmall cell lung cancer: Feasibility, limitations, and clinical utility in Indian patients. Indian J Cancer 2017;54:280-4.  Back to cited text no. 9
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Pathak A, Rajappa S, Gore A. Oncogenic drivers in nonsmall cell lung cancer and resistance to epidermal growth factor receptor tyrosine kinase inhibitors. Indian J Cancer 2017;54(Supplement):S1-S8.  Back to cited text no. 10


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