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Lung Cancer can Stay Hidden for 20 Years

Update Date: Oct 09, 2014 02:29 PM EDT

Lung cancer can stay hidden for over 20 years before it aggressively attacks the body, a new study reported. A team funded by Cancer Research UK and the Rosetrees Trust discovered that certain triggers could cause dormant cancers to progress rapidly.

"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," study author Professor Charles Swanton, at Cancer Research UK's London Research Institute and the UCL Cancer Institute, said according to the press release.

In this study, the researchers recruited seven patients diagnosed with lung cancers. The group was made up of smokers, ex-smokers, and people who never smoked before. The team examined the lung cancers and found that the cancers were made up of many different genetic faults. These faults existed in separate areas of the tumor, which made each region of the tumor unique and subsequently, very hard to treat. Treatment for one region of the tumor might not be effective for another part of the tumor.

The team reported that lung cancers caused by these initial genetic mistakes could remain hidden for over 20 years before additional genetic faults trigger the tumor to progress rapidly. By this point, survival rates dip drastically.

The researchers found that smoking affected the initial genetic mistakes that caused the cancer to develop in the beginning. However, smoking was not as strongly linked to the progression of the cancer. Instead, the team identified protein called APOBEC that appeared to be responsible for causing the tumor to progress.

Based from this study's findings, the team stressed the importance of finding more effective screening methods for lung cancer. If the cancer can be treated before it grows rapidly, the survival rate can be improved.

The study was published in Science.

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