UK scientists have discovered that lung cancers can lie dormant for more than 20 years before suddenly turning into an aggressive form of the disease.
The researchers studied lung cancers from seven patients – including smokers, ex-smokers and never smokers.
After the first genetic mistakes that cause the cancer, it can exist undetected for many years until new, additional, faults trigger rapid growth of the disease.
This research highlights the need for better ways to detect the disease earlier. Two-thirds of patients are diagnosed with advanced forms of the disease when treatments are less likely to be successful.
Professor Charles Swanton, at Cancer Research UK’s London Research Institute and the UCL Cancer Institute, says survival from lung cancer remains devastatingly low.
“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,” he says.
The study, published in the journal Science, also highlights the role of smoking in the development of lung cancer. Many of the early genetic faults are caused by smoking.
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