Treatment of Lung Cancer Patients With Actionable Mutations in the Intensive Care Unit

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Patients with advanced-stage non–small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC) have high mortality rates in the intensive care unit (ICU). Although the benefit of chemotherapy for hematologic malignancies in the ICU has previously been explored, few data exist regarding the use of targeted therapy for NSCLC in such settings. The primary objective of the present study was to report our experience with the use of targeted therapy in patients with NSCLC in the ICU.

Materials and Methods

We performed a single-institution, retrospective medical record review. The eligibility criteria included patients with NSCLC with targetable mutations who had received tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) in the ICU. Cases were identified by queries of our institution's information warehouse database and pharmacy dispensary records from 2010 to 2015.


All 9 patients who had received TKIs in the ICU had acute respiratory failure. Three patients were successfully extubated after initiating TKI therapy, although 1 required later tracheostomy. TKI therapy stabilized another patient's refractory disseminated intravascular coagulation. The remaining 5 patients showed no measurable clinical improvement and were transitioned to comfort care. The overall ICU mortality rate was 56%.


Patients with metastatic NSCLC requiring mechanical ventilation have high mortality rates. Cytotoxic chemotherapy is generally contraindicated for poor performance status patients. However, targeted TKI therapy should be considered, given its proven efficacy and few systemic side effects. We recommend the empiric use of targeted therapy for NSCLC patients with suspected and/or known actionable mutations presenting with multifactorial respiratory failure to the ICU, with aggressive determination of the mutation status if not known.


Lung cancer patients with acute respiratory failure in the intensive care unit have a poor prognosis. Molecular targeted therapy, in concert with best critical care practices, can result in extubation and improved performance status and overall survival in these patients. Empiric molecular targeted therapy should be considered in this setting for those patients with a high likelihood of having an activating mutation.

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