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20 Years in the Making, Lung Cancer Renders Treatments Ineffective; Researchers Push for Early Detection

Mesothelioma - Orphan Disease InformationTargeting biomarkers, or the unique identifying genetic traits of tumors, in the treatment of lung cancer is touted as the best way to attack the aggressive cancer. However, researchers are now reporting that unless the cancer is identified and treated early, multiple biomarkers take over the tumors leaving many of the cancer cells unaffected by the targeted therapy, and free to grow.

A team of scientists from Cancer Research UK has found that lung cancer can lie dormant for 20 years or more. They also found that during that time, the disease festers and grows through “genetic faults” in different areas of the tumor leading to a tumor no longer comprised of one unique genetic mutation, rather of many “genetically unique parts,” according to an article in Medical News Today. Cancer drugs used in personalized treatment typically target just one biomarker identified in the initial biopsy.

“Survival from lung cancer remains devastatingly low with many new targeted treatments making a limited impact on the disease,” study author Prof. Charles Swanton said in a press release announcing the findings. “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.”

In a study looking at seven patients, representing smokers, ex-smokers and non-smokers, with lung cancer, the scientists report that even though cigarette smoking may have led to the start of the growth of cancer it stayed inert and undetected for years. Then, many years later, a surge of genetic faults led to unchecked growth of cancerous cells and an aggressive, deadly cancer.

Early Detection is the Key to Survival

This finding is leading Cancer Research UK to push for better screening and detection methods for lung cancer. The key to increased life expectancy when battling this type of cancer, and other extremely aggressive cancers such as mesothelioma, is early detection.

Pleural mesothelioma is an asbestos-caused pulmonary cancer found in the outer lining of the lungs called the mesothelium. Mesothelioma displays as a large mass of interlocked tumors that blend in with healthy tissue, whereas lung cancer is characterized by more distinct, individual tumors. Many patients of either cancer do not exhibit symptoms until the cancer is advanced.

“This fascinating research highlights the need to find better ways to detect lung cancer earlier when it’s still following just one evolutionary path,” said Professor Nic Jones, Cancer Research UK’s chief scientist.

Unfortunately, while mammogram and the PSA test for breast cancer and prostate cancer, respectively, are beneficial preventive and screening measures, researchers have yet to develop an effective lung cancer screening tool. Although the National Cancer Institute identifies chest x-rays, CT scans, PET scans and the bronchoscopy as tests used to diagnose lung cancer, these are only effective after a patient has presented with worsening respiratory symptoms.

Stopping tumor growth and preventing metastasis is especially critical for mesothelioma and lung cancer where the diseases are highly aggressive. This can only be achieved if the cancer is detected early – treating a stage 1 cancer that has not yet spread is easier, and includes more treatment options, than trying to treat cancer that has spread, or metastasized, to several sites or throughout the body. And, as the researchers found, has multiple genetic markers.

The American Lung Association reports that lung cancer is the leading cancer killer in both men and women in the United States with an estimated 159,260 Americans expected to die from the cancer this year. Less than 10 percent of people diagnosed with lung cancer live five years. Mesothelioma is diagnosed in close to 3,000 Americans each year. The average survival time for mesothelioma varies from 4 – 18 months after diagnosis.

“If we can nip the disease in the bud and treat it before it has started travelling down different evolutionary routes we could make a real difference in helping more people survive the disease,” said Jones.

Cancer Research UK
Medical News Today
New York Daily News

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Nancy Meredith is a blog and web content writer with more than 20 years of professional experience in the Information Technology industry. She has been writing about Mesothelioma for 7 years. Follow Nancy on Google+

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