Scientists across Britain are to map the genes of the tumours of 850 lung cancer patients in a bid to understand more about the deadly disease. The £14m research at six centres aims to find out how lung cancers become resistant to treatment; they are the most common cause of cancer death. The study will trace how lung tumours develop and evolve over nine years. Some 42,000 people are diagnosed with lung cancer in the UK every year, with about 35,000 deaths from the disease.
Scientific progress has lagged behind that made for other cancers, only 9% of patients survive beyond five years. Researchers in London, Leicester, Cardiff, Birmingham, Manchester and Aberdeen, will create a genetic profile of each patient's tumour to study how the cancer changes and evades treatment. Patients with non-small-cell lung cancer patients, which make up about 78% of lung cancers diagnosed, will be recruited.
Lead researcher Prof Charlie Swanton, of Cancer Research UK's London Research Institute and University College London, said success in treating lung cancer had been difficult to achieve, but his team hoped to change that. He said, "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."
In one of the largest studies of its kind, scientists will analyse genetic changes inside lung cancers of hundreds of patients from diagnosis and throughout treatment. This will involve sequencing billions of letters of DNA, the equivalent of more than 65,000 human genomes. Scientists hope they will be able to identify common genetic mutations which can be targeted by drugs at different stages of the disease. Cancer Research UK's chief executive said research into lung cancer had been underfunded compared with other cancers, which was why the charity was now making it a research priority. "Typically we're diagnosing lung cancer patients very, very late," he said.
"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 tumour on which we can then do research. Getting access to that sample is critical for us to be able to understand the disease."
Dr Kumar said it was a myth that lung cancer was just a smoker's disease as two out of 10 lung cancers were unrelated to smoking. "We mustn't take our eyes off smoking," he said. "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."
Joe Suckling was diagnosed with lung cancer at the age of 50.
Following radiotherapy, he has now been clear of cancer for five years.
He said:"I was lucky but it shouldn't be about luck.
"That's why this research is so important.
"It's very vital that we get on top of this so there can be more people like myself."