Rethinking Healthcare

When lung cancer may not be lung cancer

When lung cancer may not be lung cancer

Posting in Cancer

Once the differences in the diseases are understood at the genetic level, new therapies might develop that will improve the prognosis of non-smokers

About 20 years ago I lost one of my best friends to lung cancer.

Nellie Harris had never smoked. She was a deeply religious woman who performed miracles for our street. But there was nothing we could do for her.

One reason may have been because her lung cancer was different from that smokers get.

New research from Kelsie L. Thu (right), a doctoral candidate at the BC Cancer Research Center in Vancouver (where she reminds us the host Canadian women took the hockey gold) indicates there are serious genetic differences between lung cancer tumors in smokers and non-smokers.

Her Ph.D project was to examine "DNA alterations and cell pathways disrupted specifically in never smokers."

As the press release celebrating her paper's delivery to this week's American Association for Cancer Research meeting in Philadelphia noted:

Besides having more epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) mutations...never-smoker tumor genomes had more DNA alterations than smokers altogether. This suggests there may be more genomic instability in never-smoker lung tumors and that they could develop through different molecular mechanisms.

The hope, Thu said, is that once the differences in the diseases are understood at the genetic level, new therapies might develop that will improve the prognosis of non-smokers.

There is also a social angle here. Because lung cancer is closely identified with smoking a social stigma has attached to it, like the one attached to Type II diabetics with obesity. But Type I diabetics usually aren't obese, the disease process starts in childhood, and our heart goes out to them.

Maybe there's a Type I lung cancer, too.

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Dana Blankenhorn

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Dana Blankenhorn has written for the Chicago Tribune, Advertising Age's "NetMarketing" supplement and founded the Interactive Age Daily for CMP Media. He holds degrees from Rice and Northwestern universities. He is based in Atlanta. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure