Lung Cancer

Know your options

Everyone reacts and copes differently following a lung cancer diagnosis. Each individual has to come to terms with a new reality and a large degree of uncertainty about many of the things that matter most in life.

Roche offer several treatments for lung cancer that have shown efficacy in clinical trials and have been approved by Medsafe but are not yet funded by PHARMAC. It’s possible that one of them may be right for you.

One of the most helpful things you can do is get clear on the type of lung cancer you have. This will allow you to identify all your potential options, and help you know that you’re getting the best possible treatment.

Types of lung cancer

There are several types of lung cancer, which are classified according to the type of cells present in the tumour and the genetic mutations driving the cancer’s growth. 

At the highest level, lung cancer can be classified as either:

Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), which is the most common type of lung cancer (about 85% of all cases)

Small-cell lung cancer (SCLC), which makes up around 15% of all cases.


Non-small cell lung cancer be further classified into a number of different types of cancer:
  • Adenocarcinoma (also called non-squamous cell carcinoma), which is the most common type and starts in the mucus-making gland cells in the lining of the airways.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma, which develops in the flat cells that cover the surface of the airways and tends to grow near the centre of the lung.
  • Large cell carcinoma, where the cancer cells appear large and round under a microscope.
  • Undifferentiated non-small cell lung cancer, which is when your cancer cells look very undeveloped under a microscope. This means your doctor isn’t able to tell which type of NSCLC you have. 
  • Pancoast tumours, which occur in the top of
    the lungs.
  • Mesothelioma, which is caused by significant asbestos exposure. 

Non-smoker with lung cancer?

In some cases, non-smokers can develop lung cancer, which might be due to a mutational driver such as ALK+ rearrangements.

In order to establish if you have a mutational driver causing your lung cancer, your doctor can request a special type of genetic test for you, which involves taking a sample of your tumour tissue.

If you’ve not sure if you’ve had one of these tests, then talk to your healthcare professional who will be able to advise you.

Other types of NSCLC

As researchers have learned more about NSCLC, they have discovered factors within the body that cause or even increase the speed at which lung cancer cells grow.

Epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) NSCLC

EGFR is a protein that normally helps cells grow and divide. Some NSCLC cells have too much EGFR, which makes them grow faster.  

Anaplastic lymphoma kinase positive (ALK+) NSCLC

About 5% of NSCLCs have a rearrangement in the ALK gene (resulting in ALK+ NSCLC). This change is most often seen in non-smokers (or light smokers) who have the adenocarcinoma subtype of NSCLC. The ALK gene rearrangement produces an abnormal ALK protein that causes the cells to grow and spread.

Roche lung cancer treatments available in New Zealand

Tecentriq®
(atezolizumab)

An immunotherapy for the treatment of advanced or metastatic NSCLC when taken in combination with bevacizumab and chemotherapy. It can also be taken by itself, following treatment with chemotherapy. Tecentriq works with your body’s own immune system to fight the NSCLC cancer cells.

Alecensa®
(alectinib)

A targeted therapy for the treatment of ALK+ NSCLC. It is registered for both first-line treatment and for patients who have previously been treated with crizotinib. Alecensa works by blocking the activity of the ALK rearranged protein.