Lung Cancer Can Lie Dormant for Years

Lung Cancer Can Lie Dormant for YearsLung Cancer Can Lie Dormant for Years

Cancer research scientists in the UK have discovered that lung cancers can lie dormant for over 20 years before suddenly turning aggressive, according to a study published in Science.

The team studied lung cancers from seven patients – including smokers, ex-smokers and never smokers. They found that, after the first genetic mistakes that cause the cancer, it can exist undetected for many years until new, additional faults trigger rapid growth of the disease.

During this expansion there is a surge of different genetic faults appearing in separate areas of the tumor. Each distinct section evolves down different paths – meaning that every part of the tumor is genetically unique.

The 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 hoped the study would help improve early detection of the disease.

 Low Survival Rate

Study author Prof. Charles Swanton, at the Cancer Research UK’s London Research Institute said, “Survival from lung cancer remains devastatingly low with many new targeted treatments making a limited impact on the disease. By understanding how it develops we’ve opened up the disease’s evolutionary rule book in the hope that we can start to predict its next steps.”

The study also highlighted the role of smoking in the development of lung cancer. Many of the early genetic faults are caused by smoking. But as the disease evolved these became less important with the majority of faults now caused by a new process generating mutations within the tumor controlled by a protein called APOBEC.

Over 40,000 people are diagnosed with lung cancer each year and, despite some positive steps it remains one of the biggest challenges in cancer research, with fewer than 10 percent surviving for at least five years after diagnosis.

Prof. Nic Jones, chief scientist, said, “This fascinating research highlights the need to find better ways to detect lung cancer earlier when it’s still following just one evolutionary path. If we can nip the disease in the bud and treat it before it starts travelling down different evolutionary routes we could make a real difference in helping more people survive the disease.”