Vaccine Access Advocacy Continues

States and other jurisdictions around the U.S. are giving out doses of the two currently available COVID-19 vaccines. During a public comment period at a Jan. 27 meeting of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), patient advocate Kelly Shanahan made an argument for prioritizing people with metastatic and active cancers for vaccination. Currently, ACIP places younger people with high-risk medical conditions, including cancer, in phase 1c of vaccination, after long-term care facility residents, health care personnel, people age 75 and older and frontline essential workers, although jurisdictions can make their own prioritization decisions. Shanahan, who noted she was an OB-GYN before her own metastatic breast cancer diagnosis, pointed to the high mortality rate among cancer patients who contract the coronavirus. She also pointed out the elevated hospitalization rate among cancer patients with COVID-19 and the unavoidable exposure risks people with cancer have to take to get cancer care. “I’ve heard experts state that we should move to vaccinating based on age alone, that it is just too hard to prioritize by risk. They said it was too hard to go to the moon, but we did that. It is not rocket science to devise a system where people with metastatic and active cancers are vaccinated via their cancer center or oncologist’s office,” Shanahan said. To learn more about COVID-19 vaccines and cancer, read this feature article published Jan. 23 in Cancer Today.

More KRAS Progress

KRAS mutations are among the most common mutations in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) tumors, but drugs to target cancers with these mutations have been unavailable. Results of a phase II study released Jan. 28, in conjunction with the World Conference on Lung Cancer, show that an investigational KRAS inhibitor, sotorasib, may help treat advanced NSCLC with a certain type of KRAS mutation. The mutation is present in 13% of NSCLCs. Researchers found that tumors got smaller in 37% of 124 patients with advanced NSCLC who participated in the trial. The patients, whose cancers had progressed after prior treatments, lived a median 6.8 months after starting treatment with sotorasib without their cancers progressing. Bob Li of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, who led the trial, told STAT+ that this progression-free survival length is roughly twice as long as could be expected in a similar population of patients treated with standard chemotherapy. “This is a historic milestone in [lung] cancer therapy. After four decades of scientific efforts in targeting KRAS, sotorasib has potential to be the first targeted treatment option for this patient population with a high unmet need,” Li said in a press release.

Lung Cancer in Never-Smokers

The majority of lung cancers are diagnosed in people with a history of smoking. But the proportion of lung cancers—currently 12% in the U.S.—that are diagnosed in people who have never smoked is increasing, writes journalist Sharon Begley in STAT. Begley points out that it is less clear whether the absolute number of never-smokers with lung cancer is increasing. As smoking declines in the population, it stands to reason that cases of lung cancer caused by smoking would also decline. Regardless, never-smokers with lung cancer make up a sizeable population. If it were counted separately from other lung cancers, lung cancer in never-smokers would still be in the top 10 most common U.S. cancer types, surgeon Andrew Kaufman of Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City tells STAT. Some phy​sicians argue for more research into lung cancer in never-smokers. Investment “should be commensurate with the public health threat it represents,” says oncologist John Heymach of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Begley, a never-smoker, died of complication of lung cancer on Jan. 16. ​​​​

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