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Every week more than 4,000 Americans are newly diagnosed with lung cancer and about 3,000 Americans die from the disease. Researchers at Cancer Research UK and the Rosetrees Trust in England have now uncovered a hidden factor that makes this deadly disease so hard to treat.
The study shows that lung cancer can take root and stay concealed in your lungs for more than 20 years before it becomes apparent.
The English researchers discovered that after initial genetic changes give birth to the cancer process, those genetic shifts can persist undetected for decades until other cellular developments set off the accelerating growth of cancerous tumors.
During this progression, a variety of genetic faults take place in different sections of lung cancer tumors. Each part of the tumor develops down different genetic paths. That means each of these tumor areas is genetically unique and the tumor, as a whole, is very difficult to control and destroy.
“Survival from lung cancer remains devastatingly low with many new targeted treatments making a limited impact on the disease,” says researcher Charles Swanton. “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 scientists point out the necessity of developing ways to detect lung cancer earlier in the disease process. Two of every three people diagnosed with lung cancer are already in an advanced stage of the illness when treatment is difficult and much less likely to succeed.
“This fascinating research highlights the need to find better ways to detect lung cancer earlier when it’s still following just one evolutionary path,” adds researcher Nic Jones. “If we can nip the disease in the bud and treat it before it has started traveling down different evolutionary routes we could make a real difference in helping more people survive the disease.”