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Small-cell lung cancer with a rare epidermal growth factor receptor gene mutation showing “wax-and-wane” transformation

Yusuke Takagi1*, Yoshiro Nakahara1, Yukio Hosomi1 and Tsunekazu Hishima2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Thoracic Oncology and Respiratory Medicine, Tokyo Metropolitan Cancer and Infectious Diseases Center Komagome Hospital, 3-18-22, Honkomagome, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 113-8677, Japan

2 Department of Pathology, Tokyo Metropolitan Cancer and Infectious Diseases Center Komagome Hospital, Tokyo, Japan

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BMC Cancer 2013, 13:529  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-13-529

Published: 7 November 2013



Small-cell lung cancer with epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) gene mutation typically manifests as a transformation occurring after EGFR tyrosine kinase inhibitor therapy for adenocarcinoma with EGFR mutation, whereas primary small-cell lung cancer showing EGFR mutation is extremely rare. Second biopsy of EGFR-mutated tumor has been broadly recognized as necessary, but is not always performed in daily practice, mainly due to the imbalance between the potential risk of the diagnostic procedure and the therapeutic impact of the biopsy result.

Case presentation

A 70-year-old woman who had never smoked was referred to our hospital with chief complaints of cough and back pain. Transbronchial lung biopsy from the primary tumor of the left upper lobe revealed combined small-cell lung cancer and adenocarcinoma, a subtype of small-cell lung cancer. EGFR L861Q mutation was detected in both small-cell lung cancer and adenocarcinoma components. Given the staging of cT2aN3M1b (Stage IV) and histological diagnosis, first-line chemotherapy with cisplatin plus irinotecan was initiated, and partial response was achieved. Seven months after initial diagnosis, the primary tumor enlarged again, and a second biopsy from the enlarged lesion detected only adenocarcinoma with the L861Q mutation. Erlotinib was started, but multiple brain metastases and enlarged mediastinal lymph nodes subsequently appeared. Whole-brain radiation therapy was performed, and endobronchial ultrasonography-guided transbronchial biopsy from the lymph node revealed reverse transformation to small-cell lung cancer with the L861Q mutation. Amrubicin therapy achieved partial response after two cycles, with the shrinkage lasting for eight months. Serum sialyl Lewis X antigen level increased when the adenocarcinoma component was dominant, whereas plasma pro-gastrin-releasing peptide level increased when the small-cell lung cancer component became dominant.


Transformation of the tumor correlates with the difference between small-cell lung cancer and adenocarcinoma in sensitivity to therapies, so repeated biopsies are beneficial for choosing appropriate treatments. Noninvasively obtainable parameters such as tumor markers can support the need for biopsy.

Adenocarcinoma; Biopsy; Epidermal growth factor receptor; Erlotinib; Mutation; Pro-gastrin releasing peptide; Sialyl Lewis X antigen; Small-cell lung cancer; Transformation; Tumor marker