Hundreds of thousands of people are diagnosed with lung cancer in the U.S. each year. In fact, more people die of lung cancer than of colon, breast and prostate cancers combined. Thankfully, researchers are making great strides in understanding this disease and how to more effectively treat it.
- In the U.S., an estimated 235,760 people will receive a diagnosis of lung cancer this year.
- Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in both men and women and expects to claim 131,880 lives in 2021 in the U.S.
- While cigarette smoking is the number one risk factor for lung cancer, almost 20% of lung cancer cases occur in non-smokers.
- Only 17% of people with lung cancer receive the diagnosis at the earliest stage, when the disease is most treatable. The five-year survival for early stage, localized lung cancer is 59%.
- Currently, a low-dose CT scan is the only proven effective way to screen for lung cancer.
Source: American Cancer Society’s Cancer Facts & Figures 2021
Signs and Symptoms
- A cough that does not go away or gets worse
- Coughing up blood or rust-colored sputum (spit or phlegm)
- Chest pain that is often worse with deep breathing, coughing, or laughing
- Loss of appetite
- Unexplained weight loss
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling tired or weak
- Infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia that don’t go away or keep coming back
- New onset of wheezing
Source: American Cancer Society
Lung Cancer Research
In addition to specific projects listed below, genomics research is helping us attack lung cancer – and all types of cancer. NFCR has distinguished itself from other organizations by emphasizing long-term, transformative research and working to move people toward cancer genomics.
Dr. Wei Zhang’s precision oncology research aims to reduce the survival disparity between non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) African American patients (low survival) and Caucasian American patients (higher survival). His clinical data show African American patients respond better to the new immune checkpoint therapy suggesting it has an important role in increasing their survival. Results from cutting-edge single cell RNA sequencing indicate their tumors have more cell components that this therapy reactivates to fight cancer. Dr. Zhang is identifying mutations in their tumors. This will be the largest dataset for the African American NSCLC population and it will available to the research community with the hope that results lead to a reduction in the health care disparity.
NFCR-funded scientist Dr. Michael Sporn, conducted laboratory and clinical research on fenretinide, a drug with similar structure to Vitamin A and proved its safety for use in humans. It was subsequently shown to be both safe and effective in treating several cancers. With support from the NFCR AIM-HI Translational Research Initiative, fenretinide and a novel delivery system will soon begin a Phase I clinical trial and treat T cell-non Hodgkin lymphoma patients who have relapsed or stopped responding to their current therapy. With success, patients with small cell lung cancer (SCLC), which is difficult-to-treat and represents 13% of lung cancers, may benefit from this innovative treatment.
Dr. Daniel Von Hoff is conducting translational research to develop a strategic antibody treatment for non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). The antibodies target a key molecule in the cells surrounding tumors that are known to cause tumor aggressiveness and resistance to treatment. Dr. Von Hoff has personally been involved in over 200 clinical trials. With support from NFCR, testing of the antibodies is ongoing in the preclinical studies that are necessary to gain approval for clinical trials to treat patients. Colorectal cancer is the first cancer to undergo antibody treatment in clinical trials. Lung cancer will be the next cancer for the new treatment.
Highlights of Past Accomplishments
In July 2016, the FDA approved the drug Iressa® as a front-line treatment for patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) – and the approval is only for patients with the specific tumor mutations originally identified by Dr. Daniel Haber.
Dr. Susan Horwitz’s work has been instrumental in the development of Taxol®, a natural product used to treat over 1.5 million cancer patients with lung, breast, ovarian and pancreatic cancer. From 2016 to 2020, Dr. Horwitz collaborated with organic chemist Dr. Amos B. Smith III to develop similar natural product drugs to overcome resistance to Taxol experienced by patients. They synthesized analogues of discodermolide, a natural product from a Caribbean Sea sponge that works similar to Taxol. In lung cancer models, the lead compounds killed cancer cells with reduced toxicity. Future development of the most promising candidate may lead to a new treatment for cancer patients.
Thanks to NFCR-funded research from 2014 to 2019 by Dr. Alice Shaw, a new and better way to treat cancer resistance is emerging. By successfully identifying drug combinations that halted the growth of resistant cells in tumor models, her research is leading to development of effective therapeutic strategies for patients with ALK-positive NSCLC (mutations in the ALK gene).