Advances in lung cancer treatment have improved in recent years. There are now many more options that go beyond the standard surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation traditionally used to treat lung cancer.

Doctors can now test tumors for specific genetic mutations like:

  • EGFR
  • ALK
  • ROS1

If your doctor identifies one of these mutations, they can prescribe medications that target the cancer more precisely. A targeted treatment may help improve your outcome.

A few other gene targets show promise for treating non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), including MET.

A new targeted drug called a MET inhibitor is available to treat cancer that has a MET mutation. A few other MET inhibitors are in clinical trials.

MET is short for mesenchymal-epithelial transition gene. It helps cells grow and survive. When this gene mutates, cancer cells grow faster than usual.

MET exon 14 (METex14) is a specific type of this mutated gene. About 2 to 3 percent of lung cancers have this mutation.

Doctors look for METex14 and other gene mutations using molecular testing, also called genomic or tumor testing. This type of test identifies changes in the cancer’s DNA.

Molecular testing starts with a biopsy to remove a small sample of tissue. Some genomic tests use a sample of your blood instead.

Your hospital or a lab tests the sample for genetic changes and proteins that are linked to lung cancer.

Treatments for NSCLC include:

  • surgery
  • chemotherapy
  • radiation
  • immunotherapy

MET inhibitors are a new type of targeted therapy for lung cancer that tests positive for METex14. These drugs work by blocking a substance the tumor needs to grow.

In May 2020, the FDA approved capmatinib (Tabrecta) for metastatic NSCLC with the METex14 mutation. It’s the first targeted therapy approved for people diagnosed with this gene mutation.

Tabrecta belongs to a group of drugs called tyrosine kinase inhibitors. These medications block the action of enzymes called tyrosine kinases, which help cancer cells grow and divide.

Research found that 68 percent of people who took Tabrecta as their first treatment had a partial or complete response to the drug. This response lasted for an average of 1 year.

Additionally, 41 percent of people who’d already been treated with chemotherapy or other drugs responded to Tabrecta.

You’ll typically stay on a treatment until you show no signs of cancer or until the treatment stops working. How long you take Tabrecta depends on how the cancer responds to it.

If the drug stops working, your doctor may switch you to another treatment.

The most common side effects with Tabrecta are:

  • swelling caused by fluid buildup under the skin
  • nausea and vomiting
  • fatigue
  • shortness of breath
  • reduced appetite

In rare cases, this drug can cause liver damage or lung inflammation. It can also make your skin more sensitive to the sun. Your doctor may recommend that you stay out of the sun while you take this medication.

This drug is not safe to take during pregnancy. It may harm your developing baby. Use birth control while you take it.

Other treatments for NSCLC come with their own side effects. Ask your doctor which side effects you might experience while taking medication.

Ask your doctor what you can do to manage treatment side effects. One option is to get palliative care. This special type of care can help to reduce symptoms from both the cancer and its treatments.

Whether your treatment is covered depends on what type of health insurance you have.

Ask your insurance company if your treatment is included in your plan’s coverage. Also, ask about the co-pay, or the amount you’ll have to pay out of pocket for the drug.

During your treatment, you’ll see your oncologist for regular follow-up visits. Your doctor will tell you how often to schedule these checkups.

It’s important that you to go to each scheduled appointment. Your doctor will use these visits to monitor how well your treatment is working.

Let your doctor know if you experience any cancer symptoms or side effects from your treatment in between visits. If so, you might need a medication adjustment.

Your doctor will monitor how well you’re responding to treatment by examining you and asking about any symptoms you’ve experienced at each checkup.

You may undergo certain tests to find out if your tumor is shrinking, growing, or staying the same. This may include:

  • blood tests
  • tumor markers
  • X-rays
  • computed tomography (CT) scan
  • magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan
  • positron emission tomography (PET) scan
  • bone scan

MET inhibitor drugs don’t work for everyone who takes them. Sometimes the drug works at first, but then it stops working, as the cancer can develop resistance to the drug over time.

If the first treatment you try doesn’t work or stops working, your doctor will discuss other options with you.

A few other MET inhibitor drugs are being studied for treating NSCLC with METex14 mutations, including:

  • crizotinib (Xalkori)
  • savolitinib
  • tepotinib (Tepmetko)

Right now, these drugs are only available through clinical trials. You may be able to try one of them by enrolling in a study.

When you’re diagnosed with NSCLC, molecular testing can identify genetic mutations, like the METex14 mutation. The targeted drug Tabrecta is FDA approved to treat cancers with this type of mutation.

When your doctor recommends a new cancer treatment, ask questions. Make sure you understand how the medication can help you and what side effects it may cause.