J Clin Pathol 66:79-89 doi:10.1136/jclinpath-2012-201194
  • Review

EGFR mutation testing in lung cancer: a review of available methods and their use for analysis of tumour tissue and cytology samples

Open AccessEditor's Choice
  1. Rose McCormack1
  1. 1AstraZeneca, Macclesfield, Alderley Park, UK
  2. 2AstraZeneca R&D, Shanghai, China
  3. 3AstraZeneca SA Hellas, Athens, Greece
  1. Correspondence to Dr Gillian Ellison, AstraZeneca, Alderley Park, Macclesfield, Cheshire SK10 4TG, UK; gillian.ellison{at}
  • Received 10 September 2012
  • Revised 19 October 2012
  • Accepted 22 October 2012
  • Published Online First 21 November 2012


Aims Activating mutations in the gene encoding epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) can confer sensitivity to EGFR tyrosine kinase inhibitors such as gefitinib in patients with advanced non-small-cell lung cancer. Testing for mutations in EGFR is therefore an important step in the treatment-decision pathway. We reviewed reported methods for EGFR mutation testing in patients with lung cancer, initially focusing on studies involving standard tumour tissue samples. We also evaluated data on the use of cytology samples in order to determine their suitability for EGFR mutation analysis.

Methods We searched the MEDLINE database for studies reporting on EGFR mutation testing methods in patients with lung cancer.

Results Various methods have been investigated as potential alternatives to the historical standard for EGFR mutation testing, direct DNA sequencing. Many of these are targeted methods that specifically detect the most common EGFR mutations. The development of targeted mutation testing methods and commercially available test kits has enabled sensitive, rapid and robust analysis of clinical samples. The use of screening methods, subsequent to sample micro dissection, has also ensured that identification of more rare, uncommon mutations is now feasible. Cytology samples including fine needle aspirate and pleural effusion can be used successfully to determine EGFR mutation status provided that sensitive testing methods are employed.

Conclusions Several different testing methods offer a more sensitive alternative to direct sequencing for the detection of common EGFR mutations. Evidence published to date suggests cytology samples are viable alternatives for mutation testing when tumour tissue samples are not available.

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