A major new study has shown that lung cancer in non-smokers is a diverse and distinct disease from that found in smokers. These findings could lead to significant development in the way lung cancer is treated, with new treatments for non-smokers with lung cancer tailored to the newly identified genetic differences.
The research, published in the journal Cell on the 9th of July, was funded by Cancer Research UK and various institutions in Taiwan including the Ministry of Science and Technology. As it stands, it’s the most comprehensive ever study of the biology of lung cancer in non-smokers. Scientists from the Institute of Cancer Research, London co-led the research, alongside colleagues in Taiwan.
Scientists studied a population in Taiwan with high rates of lung cancer among non-smokers, finding a range of genetic changes which varied, depending on a patient’s age or sex. Many non-smokers with lung cancer had signs of DNA damage from environmental carcinogens. Young women in particular were found to have specific genetic changes which are known to drive cancer to evolve aggressively.
Around 10-15 percent of lung cancers in the UK occur in people who have never smoked. However, in East Asia, the proportion of lung cancers that occur in non-smokers is much higher, particularly among women.
While the new study looked at patients treated in Taiwan, the researchers believe that many of their findings could be applicable to UK patients. Findings are due to be validated in larger studies and beyond Asia.
Lung cancer is currently the biggest cancer killer in the UK, but much of the research on lung cancer has been focused on smokers. Scientists hope that new insights will increase the precision and success of lung cancer treatments for non-smokers.