Scientists in the UK are conducting studies across the country in an effort to unravel the mysteries of lung cancer. In the largest study of its kind, they will chart the genes of 850 tumors in patients to understand why lung cancers resist treatment over time. They will study how tumors continue to grow and become more genetically complex.
According to reports, scientists will study genetic changes inside tumors from inception of the onset and throughout treatment of the disease.
Scientists say the mutations in the tumor means all cells in a tumor do not share the same characteristics and are often quite different from each other. This makes it harder to treat the deadly illness.
Scientists hope that understanding the complexity of mutations and identifying common genetic characteristics in the tumor as it progresses will result in developing new drugs that can target the disease at its different stages.
According to reports, the study to unravel the lung cancer mysteries will be conducted at six research centers across the country.
Academics say this study is long overdue. They say research in the disease has lagged behind compared to other cancers. This has resulted in late diagnosis of the condition leading to other consequences.
According to Dr. Harpal Kumar of Cancer Research UK, along with problems of late diagnosis of lung cancer, which makes it harder for researchers to obtain biopsies for studies and recruit patients for trials studies, the perception that the condition is a problem for smokers could be one reason why progress has been so slow. Speaking at the launch of this genetic study in Britain on Wednesday, Dr. Kumar said.
“Typically we’re diagnosing lung cancer patients very, very late. By which time their cancers are already very advanced, they’ve often already spread around the body and often that means that those patients are too ill to go onto a clinical study or for us to get access to a sample of their tumor on which we can then do research.
He said that lung cancer was no longer confined to smokers only. “People tend to think it is just a smokers’ disease, but it isn’t.” He said this was a myth as two out of 10 lung cancers were unrelated to smoking. He said that this trend was growing worldwide.
“It is a significant problem, and one that is growing globally.”
He added, “It is not so long ago that we used to say more than nine in ten lung cancers were smoking-related, and now we say eight in ten.”
According to researchers, while smoking is still the leading cause of lung cancer, the proportion of non-smoking related cases is growing larger over time. Reports say the number of people who contract the disease from other causes, such as asbestos, remained stable at about 6,000 per year in the UK.
“We mustn’t take our eyes off smoking,” Dr. Kumar told reporters. “We know that smoking causes a quarter of all cancer deaths not just lung cancer – of all cancer deaths.”
“So it is a problem that still needs to be tackled. But it is wrong to think that all lung cancer is caused by smoking.”
According to Dr. Charles Swanton, of UK’s London Research Institute and the lead scientist in the study, treating lung cancer had been difficult to achieve, but he said his team hoped to change that.
He told reporters, “The main hope will be a much better understanding of how non-small-cell lung cancer changes and adapts over time.
“And by understanding how it changes and adapts over time, I hope we’ll get a better insight into developing better therapeutics to stop those changes and adaptations from happening.”
Reports say lung cancer is the leading cause of death in the UK. Approximately 42,000 people in the country are diagnosed with lung cancer every year and about 35,000 die from the disease. Reports say only 9% of patients survive beyond five years.
Scientists hope to change that by unraveling the mysteries of lung cancer.
By Perviz Walji