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Lung Cancer Prevention Research

What's New?

By

Updated September 16, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Lung cancer research is critically important to find better treatments, screening methods, and an understanding of the causes of lung cancer. Many clinical trials are in progress, investigating the use of new treatments, as well as methods of diagnosing and preventing lung cancer. Due to the overall poor survival rate with lung cancer, the National Cancer Institute recommends that people with lung cancer check for clinical trials that may be appropriate for them. What’s new in lung cancer research?

*Note: The clinical trial links below are not a comprehensive list of trials available, but used simply as examples of some of the research in progress.

Lung Cancer Prevention Research

Of course, cigarette smoking is one focus of lung cancer prevention research. Why do some people who smoke get lung cancer, while others don’t? Is there a reason, genetic or otherwise, that some people find it more difficult to quit? Is there a difference in the chemical make-up of cigarettes, with some being more likely to cause lung cancer? Why, in some countries, is the risk of lung cancer lower than the U.S. even though individuals smoke more? (for example, the Japan/Smoking/Lung Cancer Paradox).

Beyond smoking, lung cancer research is looking into the role that diet, exercise, nutritional supplements, and medications may play in preventing lung cancer. Exercise appears to help both with prevention and with survival after a diagnosis of lung cancer. Studies on nutritional supplements have, on the other hand, been disappointing. Even though eating a diet of foods high in beta-carotene and vitamin E has been linked with a lower risk of lung cancer, taking these nutrients in supplement form was actually associated with an increased risk of developing lung cancer.

Examples of a few studies currently in progress to evaluate chemoprevention, or nutritional and pharmaceutical (medications) methods of preventing lung cancer, include: green tea, inositol (a compound found in nuts, grains, and beans), sulindac (a pain medication), enzastaurin (an anti-cancer drug), pioglitazone" (a diabetes medication) and phenethyl isothiocyanate (a compound found in cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli).

Lung Cancer Screening Research

While screening for lung cancer with routine chest x-rays has not been shown to decrease the risk of dying from lung cancer, screening high risk individuals with spiral CT scans was recently found to reduce the risk of dying from lung cancer by roughly 20%. In this study called the National Lung Screening Trial, people between the ages of 55 and 74 who had at least a 30 pack-year history of smoking were evaluated with annual CT scans for 3 consecutive years. Work is in progress to further evaluate the risks and benefits of screening high risk individuals by this method.

Bronchoscopy, a test in which a tube is inserted into the large airways to look for abnormalities, is also being tested as a method of detecting lung cancer in the early stages in people who have smoked.

An exciting area of research prompted by our increased understanding of genetics is the potential to use biomarkers, tests of substances in the blood, to see who is most at risk of developing lung cancer in the future and to detect lung cancer in the earliest of stages. Several studies evaluating the use of biomarkers are in progress.

Lung Cancer Diagnosis and Staging Research

Properly diagnosing the stage of a lung cancer allows oncologists to recommend the most appropriate treatments. That said, defining the stage of a lung cancer is not always easy. Studies are being conducted that use new methods to more accurately see if, and how far, a lung cancer has spread.

One example is using a combination of CT and PET scanning in addition to traditional staging methods. While CT scans look for abnormalities in the lungs and beyond, PET scans look for biological signs of a tumor (signs that tumor cells are actively growing) in the body.

Some studies are concentrating on less invasive (and subsequently better tolerated) procedures to stage lung cancer. An example is a study comparing a procedure called mediastinoscopy (a test in which a tube is inserted into the chest between the lungs to look for cancer spread), with a less invasive test in which an ultrasound of this area is done via a tube in the esophagus.

Continued on Page 2 - Treatments and Genetic Research

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