Scientists have discovered that lung cancer cells can lie dormant for over 20 years before they turn deadly, helping to explain the disease’s persistence that kills 1.5 million people every year.
According to two papers published in the journal, Science, scientists discovered that tumor cells quietly shape-shift into numerous new mutations over the evolution of lung cancer.
The study revealed that different parts of the same tumor develop genetically unique properties, which makes it extremely hard for doctors to treat patients.
Scientists say these alterations are caused after an initial disease-causing genetic fault, usually due to smoking.
The findings reveal the urgent need to improve ways to detect lung cancer before the disease eventually triggers rapid tumor growth and spread.
Current technology allows doctors to detect lung cancer only after nodules contain as many as a billion genetically diverse cancer cells.
“What we’ve not been able to understand before is why this is really the emperor of all cancers and one of the hardest diseases to treat… Previously, we didn’t know how heterogeneous these early-stage lung cancers were,” said Charles Swanton, an author on one of the papers from UK’s London Research Institute.
According to the World Health Organization, lung cancer kills an estimated 4,300 people a day, making it the world’s deadliest cancer.
Smoking is responsible for nine out of every 10 diagnosed cases of lung cancer.
Scientists suggest that quitting smoking is the best way to protect smokers against lung cancer.
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