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Current Research into Lung Cancer

written by: Emma Lloyd • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 8/12/2010

Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer deaths in the U.S., for both men and women, here we look at current research for lung cancer and the development of effective treatments.

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    Current Research for Lung Cancer

    Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer deaths in the United States, but approximately 90% of lung cancer cases are preventable, as they are caused by smoking. While numbers of smokers are dropping, experts predict it will be two to three decades before the effects of this are reflected in lung cancer statistics, so research to cure lung cancer continues to be important.

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    Current Lung Cancer Treatment

    Current treatment for lung cancer typically involves a combination of one or more standard treatments, including surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and targeted drug therapy.

    The treatment combination for a given individual depends mainly on the stage their cancer is at. Early stage cancers are often treated with surgery to remove the tumor, followed by chemotherapy or radiotherapy to kill any remaining cancer cells. People with late stage cancers are generally not good candidates for surgery, and are more likely to receive chemotherapy, radiotherapy, or palliative treatments.

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    Advances in Lung Cancer Research

    One recent advance in research to cure lung cancer includes targeted drug therapy, a form of chemotherapy which is much more specific, targeting processes which are required by cancer cells for survival. However, despite the increased specificity of the treatment, moderate to severe side effects are still possible.

    Two new targeted drug therapy agents include Bevacizumab (Avastin), a monoclonal antibody-based drug which prevents tumor cells from receiving essential nutrients by preventing angiogenesis, the process whereby tumor cells form new blood vessels. The second targeted drug is Erlotinib (Tarceva), which blocks cancer cells from receiving chemical signals which allow them to multiply.

    Currently the main focus of research to cure lung cancer is on developing new drugs of these kinds, due to a belief among many lung cancer experts that conventional chemotherapy drugs have reached a plateau in terms of their usefulness in treating the disease. Possible targets for new and developing drugs include:

    • Inhibition of pathways which provide lung cancer cells with growth-stimulating chemical signals (similar to Erlotinib).
    • Inhibition of proteosome activity in cancer cells. Proteosomes are large protein complexes found within cells which have a number of functions, including a role in the regulation of the cell cycle. Inhibition of proteosomes in cancer cells leads to death of those cells.
    • Histone deactylase inhibitors, to prevent lung cancer cells from expressing certain genes which are involved in the cause of malignancy. Inhibition of histone deactylase (an enzyme) can cause the death of cancer cells, or prevent cancer cells from multiplying. These targeted drugs have also been shown to enhance the effects of some standard chemotherapy agents.

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    References and Further Reading

    Gettinger, S. Targeted Therapy in Advanced Non-Small-Cell Lung Cancer. Seminars in Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. 2008;29(3):291-301.

    Medscape Lung Cancer Resource Center (may require free registration)

    The Mayo Clinic on Lung Cancer