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Understanding Types of Biomarker Testing

Medical experts recommend biomarker testing for people with advanced or metastatic non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Test results can help you and your health care team make a shared decision on your treatment.

In this section we will discuss the different types of biomarker testing available.

Biomarker testing can also be called:

  • Genomic testing
  • Mutation testing
  • Molecular testing
  • Genomic profiling

There are 2 common approaches to testing for driver mutations

Mutations can be found using single or comprehensive biomarker tests.

Single biomarker test

Illustration of DNA strand and single biomarker test

Single biomarker tests look for 1 specific driver mutation in a tumor sample.

Comprehensive biomarker test

Illustration of DNA strand and comprehensive biomarker test

Comprehensive biomarker testing (also known as next-generation sequencing or NGS) looks for multiple mutations at the same time on the same tumor sample.

There are more than 8 driver mutations recommended for biomarker testing in NSCLC.

Benefits of comprehensive biomarker testing

  • Single biomarker tests can use up all of a small biopsy sample quickly
  • If your biopsy runs out:
    • You may be delayed in getting tested for all of the recommended biomarkers
    • Your health care team may recommend undergoing another biopsy
  • It will be important to check with your health care team that they have collected a large enough sample
  • Comprehensive biomarker testing can more efficiently check for all of the recommended driver mutations at one time
  • Comprehensive biomarker testing may also identify other mutations that may help determine if you are eligible for a clinical trial

Biomarker testing is an important part of your journey because it may help identify the best treatment options that are available for you

  • Ask your doctor about biomarker testing today
  • Not sure what to ask? See below for a list of questions you may want to ask before and after getting biomarker testing

Additional questions you can ask your health care team about biomarker testing

Before testing

  • Have I already had any biomarker tests? If so, which ones?
  • Are there any complications from these tests?
  • How long will it take to get the test results?
  • Are there any limitations of biomarker testing?
  • Will my insurance pay for these tests?

After testing

  • What are the results of my biomarker tests?
  • How do my biomarker test results affect my treatment?
    • The biomarker test results are positive; what are my treatment options?
    • The biomarker test results are negative; should I be retested?
    • The biomarker test results are unclear; should I be retested?
  • Will I need these biomarker tests again? If so, why? When?
  • How can I get a copy of my pathology report and biomarker test results?

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is comprehensive biomarker testing so important?
Comprehensive biomarker testing is important because it may help identify a treatment that may be right for you. Biomarker testing helps identify if you have any biomarkers that may be treated with an approved targeted therapy or if you are eligible for participation in a clinical trial.

Studies have shown that people with NSCLC who are treated with a targeted therapy based on their unique biomarker may have better outcomes than those who are not.

Also, medical experts have found that some NSCLC caused by driver mutations may not respond as well to less-targeted options like immunotherapy. Start by talking to your health care team about comprehensive biomarker testing to identify treatment options for your specific type of lung cancer.

How is comprehensive biomarker testing done?
Comprehensive biomarker testing can be done using either a tumor sample from surgery or biopsy or in some cases a blood sample (liquid biopsy). After the biopsy or blood sample is collected, it is sent to a laboratory for testing.

How long does it take to get results from comprehensive biomarker testing?
After comprehensive biomarker testing has been ordered, the test results are generally available within 2 to 4 weeks. Liquid biopsy results may take less time. It is very important to confirm with your health care team when you should expect to receive the results.

What are the costs of biomarker testing?
Biomarker testing is often covered by private insurance (like HMOs or PPOs), Medicare, or some Medicaid plans. And you may be able to get help paying for it. Talk with your health care team or contact your insurance company to find out more.

Next Steps

  • Talk to your health care team about what kinds of diagnostic tests have been done and whether you are eligible for biomarker testing
  • Talk to your health care team about the benefits of comprehensive biomarker testing compared with single biomarker tests
  • If you are eligible for biomarker testing, ask when you can expect to get biomarker testing and how soon results will be available
  • Discuss with your health care team or insurance company which biomarker tests are covered
  • If biomarker testing is not covered, ask your health care team if there are financial assistance resources that are available
  • Set up an appointment with your health care team to discuss your treatment options based on your biomarker test results

Previous Section
Understanding Biomarkers

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  • Non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC)

    The most common form of lung cancer, which is described by the way the cancer cells look under a microscope (not small).

  • Targeted Therapy

    A treatment that targets the driver mutations that cause cancer growth.