Lung Cancer | Cancer Types - National Foundation for Cancer Research

Lung Cancer

Lung Cancer

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.

Key Facts

  • 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
  • Hoarseness
  • 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
White Lung Cancer Ribbon
new cases expected in 2021
deaths annually
of cases detected early

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.

Wei Zhang, Ph.D.
Wei Zhang, Ph.D.

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.

Michael B. Sporn, M.D.
Michael B. Sporn, M.D.

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.

Daniel Von Hoff, M.D
Daniel Von Hoff, M.D

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

Daniel A. Haber, Ph.D.
Daniel A. Haber, M.D., Ph.D.

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.

Susan B. Horwitz, Ph.D.
Susan B. Horwitz, Ph.D.

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.

Amos B. Smith III, Ph.D.
Amos B. Smith III, Ph.D.
Alice T. Shaw, M.D., Ph.D.
Alice T. Shaw, M.D., Ph.D.

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).

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Lung Cancer Awareness Month: Wildfires and Cancer

It’s already November and the dystopian year of 2020 has hardly been mundane. The year began with Australia ablaze, sending the world into a panic about the wellbeing of Australians and their notorious animals. As the year continued, health and wellbeing remained a priority for people around the world. Now, as the west coast is affected by disastrous wildfires, questions of health begin to arise once again. What’s the risk? Many people affected by the wildfires have expressed concerns about the long-term impacts the smoke may have on their health and how they can protect themselves and their family. The smoke from wildfires may have long-term health effects, but healthcare professionals advise that it is actually particles within the smoke that cause the biggest threat. Most smoke is filled with ash and debris, which can be harmful to ones’ health. Wildfire smoke, however, is particularly dangerous as the debris comes from a variety of burnt material, including appliances, home structures, and vehicles. Because there is such a large variety of burnt material, it is difficult to know exactly what is being inhaled, and therefore, how much of a cancer risk it may pose. Researchers have been curious about the cancerous effects of wildfire smoke on proximate citizens, but there is limited data available regarding length of exposure. Most published studies that have identified a link between wildfire smoke and an increased lung cancer risk have involved firefighters. These studies suggest that there is, in fact, a correlation between wildfire smoke and cancer; however the majority of the participants endured prolonged exposure. More data is required to determine the correlation of cancer risk with short-term exposure. How can I protect myself? As researchers continue to determine the risk wildfire smoke bears, the National Foundation for Cancer Research recommends taking precautions when exposed to wildfire smoke. Breathing in the ash and debris may pose a cancer risk, but it also has been linked to heart disease, COPD, and other respiratory conditions. To protect oneself, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests wearing a heavy-duty mask called a respirator when outdoors near smoke for an extended period of time. These masks are more protective than paper dust masks, which look like surgical masks, as they can trap smaller particles common in wildfire smoke. Staying inside can be a safe option if the air quality is low but the fires don’t present immediate danger to the area. When staying inside, it is important to keep doors and windows closed and secure and to run an air conditioner with the fresh air intake closed. Clean air conditioner filters will also help clear any debris or particles that may be in the air. It is also advised that families avoid vacuuming as it can redistribute settled particles into the air. For cancer patients or people who already have asthma or another lung disease, it is important to speak to a doctor to develop an action plan. Having an action plan ready, including an emergency contact, list of medications, and evacuation plan, can save time and help one’s family think quickly and clearly in […]