World No Tobacco day – why it’s never too late to quit.
Since today is World No Tobacco Day, we focus on lung cancer, and why it’s still such a difficult disease to treat.
The facts and figures
Tobacco use is associated with an increased risk of many cancers including the larynx, oesophagus (foodpipe), mouth and pharynx, bladder, kidney, liver, stomach, bowel, cervix, leukaemia and ovarian. Although not all lung cancer cases are linked to smoking tobacco, it is the biggest cause of lung cancer, responsible for more than 8 out of 10 (80%) of cases. This includes breathing in other people's cigarette smoke.
Worldwide, nearly 1.83 million new cases of lung cancer were estimated to have been diagnosed in 2012 alone. In the UK it is the second most common cancer and the biggest cause of cancer deaths and lung cancer rates in Scotland are still among the highest in the world.
Sadly just 5 per cent of newly diagnosed lung cancer patients will survive 10 or more years, survival rates have actually not shown much improvement since the 1970s. But why is this still the case, when we have made such incredible leaps and bounds with other cancers?
The problem with lung cancer
The reality is that lung cancer is difficult. It is often diagnosed late and hard to treat due to the different genetic changes, or mutations, found in lung cancer.
Professor Michael Seckl, Worldwide Cancer Research grant holder at the Imperial College School of Medicine in London explains:
The majority of mutations do not make it easy to treat. Some gene mutations found in non-small cell lung cancer [the most common type of lung cancer] make the tumour sensitive to existing treatments, but the tumours often come back with additional mutations or other changes, making them resistant to drugs. They spread to other parts of the body and can kill the patient very quickly.
That’s why Professor Seckl is using our funding to find ways to overcome drug resistance in non-small cell lung cancer.
More research means more answers
It’s clear we need to know more, much more about lung cancer. But despite this, lung cancer research often receives less attention than other cancers, hindering our progress in beating this disease.
“It’s hard to get funding for lung cancer research” says Professor Seckl. “I think one reason is because it has long been seen as a self-inflicted disease. Yet smoking increases the risk of more than a dozen other cancer types. These conditions do not carry the same stigma. Also lung cancer affects people who have never smoked or have stopped smoking.” Indeed, around 1 in 5 of patients with lung cancer have never smoked in their lives.
Worldwide Cancer Research does not discriminate. We believe no life deserves to be cut short by cancer. We currently have over £950,000 invested in lung cancer research around the world, helping our scientists make valuable progress towards better prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of this devastating disease.
Scientists like Dr Peter Katsikis at Erasmus MC in The Netherlands. His team are finding ways to help our own immune system target and attack skin and lung cancer tumours more efficiently. And Dr Silvestre Vicent at Fima Fundación Para la Investigación Médica Aplicada in Spain. Dr Vicent is working hard to develop a new approach to targeting lung cancers with mutations in a gene called KRAS.
Or Dr Angeliki Malliri at the University of Manchester, whose study supported by Worldwide Cancer Research showed how lung cancer cells can break free and spread around the body. “This important research shows for the first time how lung cancer cells sever ties with their neighbours and start to spread around the body,” says Dr Malliri. “Targeting this flaw could help stop lung cancer from spreading.”
It's not too late to make a change
Scientists are doing all they can to help beat cancer but one of the best ways is to reduce our risk of getting it in the first place. Even light or occasional smoking increases the risk of lung cancer and other cancers. But the good news is that stopping smoking reduces your risk. The sooner you stop, the sooner your risk goes down. So why not make World No Tobacco Day the day kick the habit?
Search all of our lung cancer projects here.