Lung cancer is one of the most difficult to detect cancers, which lets it progress rapidly until it is finally uncovered.

Why is that? How does it hide?

Fox news reports on the prevalence of lung cancer in adults. Expert research shows that lung cancer stays dormant for as long as two decades in any given person. This is one of the reasons why it has become one of the deadliest diseases in the world.

Dr. Swanson, a professor of cancer research at the London Research Institute, authored the study. He told Fox, “The problem with lung cancer is we often diagnose patients too late.”

What did the study show?

Experts found that after an initial genetic fault, usually as a result of smoking, lung cancer genes mutate and adapt, causing different parts of a single tumor to become genetically unique. The researchers recently published the results in the journal Science.

How many people were studied?

“Scientists studied lung cancers from seven patients, including smokers, ex-smokers and never-smokers, and examined how their tumors evolved. Two of the seven study participants gave up smoking 20 years before the study began. Swanton’s team noted that in these patients, smoking left a scar in the genome of mutations which allowed them to time the genetic events during the course of the cancers’ evolution,” according to Fox.

Among these participants many of the mutations were linked to smoking. However as the disease advanced, another enzyme, APOBEC, began causing more mutations than smoking.

Why is this happening? Dr. Swanton said, “Why that is we don’t know. We wonder if smoking itself is advancing it. The more diverse a tumor, the more high-risk it’s likely to be.”

What does APOBEC do? It primarily functions to mutate viruses, but in the study cancer cells appeared to hijack the enzyme, according to a biometrician in Swanton’s lab.

The gamut of faults found within the lung cancers could explain why targeted treatments are often unsuccessful.

Statistics show that over 40,000 people are diagnosed with lung cancer each year.

What is the chance of surviving? The disease has less than a 10 percent survival rate at least five years after diagnosis. The World Health Organization finds that, lung cancer kills 4,300 people a day. Two-thirds of lung cancer patients are diagnosed with progressed forms of the disease— a time when treatments are not likely to be helpful.

Dr. De Bruin, from Swanton’s lab, told reporters, “If we can somehow detect these tumors earlier, we might be able to target these mutations in a very early stage and maybe, hopefully be in a state where patients are curable.”

Due to the fact that these findings imply a long latency period for lung cancer, future research could explore whether circulating tumor DNA from blood would help with early detection.

Dr. Swanton explained why this would be important, “That would be before the tumors even appeared on a CT scan. It would allow us to understand or define a group of high-risk people for screening.”

Science Daily also reported on the study on their website. The article sheds light on the research’s ability to help doctors detect lung cancer sooner.

“This research -- jointly funded by Cancer Research UK and the Rosetrees Trust -- highlights the need for better ways to detect the disease earlier. Two-thirds of patients are diagnosed with advanced forms of the disease when treatments are less likely to be successful. By revealing that lung cancers can lie dormant for many years the researchers hope this study will help improve early detection of the disease,” according to Science Daily.

The research is said to show better ways to detect lung cancer. It also shows why targeted treatments have not been successful in most. Experts say that right now lung cancer is only following one evolutionary path; therefore it is better to nip it in the bud now before it evolves.


Gerry Oginski
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