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Breathing life into lung cancer research

01 November 2015

Lung cancer kills twice as many Canadians as breast and prostate cancer, combined. It is the leading cause of death from cancer for both men and women in Canada, accounting for nearly 27% of all cancer deaths.

It is estimated that 26,600 Canadians will be diagnosed with lung cancer in 2015, and 20,900 will die from the disease. Tobacco use is the leading cause of lung cancer, and radon exposure is the 2nd known cause, accounting for an estimated 3,000 lung cancer deaths in Canada every year.

Thirty years ago about 14% of Canadians diagnosed with lung cancer survived at least 5 years after their diagnosis. The outlook is only a little better today at 17%. More research is needed to detect and treat lung cancer earlier and prevent it in the first place.

Canadian Cancer Society Research Institute (CCSRI) support of lung cancer research

Thanks to our donors, the Canadian Cancer Society invested $2.2 million in lung cancer research through our Research Institute in 2014. This supported 37 lead investigators across Canada exploring the biology behind the causes of lung cancer and new ways to detect it, treat it and prevent it before it starts.

The Society-funded NCIC Clinical Trials Group is the only Canadian cancer trials group that conducts the entire range of clinical trials across all cancer types. In 2014, 10 lung cancer clinical trials were active, involving 1,328 patients in cities across the country – including Kelowna, Vancouver, Edmonton, Regina, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Hamilton, London, Ottawa, Toronto, Thunder Bay, Montreal, Quebec City, Sherbrooke, St John’s, Saint John and Moncton. In 2014 the NCIC Clinical Trials Group announced a large, cutting-edge lung cancer trial testing a new class of drug for non–small cell lung cancer. 

“This is the first trial in the world to test this new drug in the setting of early lung cancer treatment.”
–  Dr Janet Dancey, Director of the NCIC Clinical Trials Group

Twenty-five Canadian institutions will participate in this international trial that includes the United States, France, Australia, New Zealand, Spain, the Netherlands, Poland, Hungary, Italy, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan.

“As a 3-time lung cancer survivor and a proud volunteer with the Canadian Cancer Society peer support program, I know first-hand and through supporting others, the critical need to have trials of this calibre.”
–  Carol Gething, lung cancer survivor 

We’re making progress!

Society-funded researchers continue to bring new insight and approaches to tackling lung cancer. In 2014 the Canadian Cancer Society supported key research findings, including:

  • Dr Rayjean Hung from Mount Sinai Hospital uncovered new genetic risk factors for lung cancer. BRCA2 and CHEK2 gene variants were associated with squamous cell lung cancer in people of European ancestry, and a gene variant only previously reported in Asian populations was associated with lung adenocarcinoma.
  • Dr David Dankort from McGill University found that the KRAS gene, mutated in about 1 in 5 lung cancer adenocarcinomas, could in some situations suppress cancer – important knowledge for the development of new cancer treatments.
  • Dr Michael Chaiton from the University of Toronto showed that smokers trying to quit were less likely to succeed after being exposed to tobacco smoke on patios, revealing an additional benefit of public smoking bans originally designed to reduce second-hand smoke exposure.
  • Dr Haishan Zeng from the British Columbia Cancer Agency advanced breath analysis to detect signs of disease. By combining 2 technologies, he established a more sensitive method that could lead to new, simple and inexpensive ways to detect cancer.
  • Dr Steve Manske of the Propel Centre for Population Health Impact at the University of Waterloo found that over half of Canadian youth tobacco users chose flavoured tobacco, providing the evidence to support bans of these products in many provinces.
  • Dr Stuart Peacock, co-director of the Canadian Centre for Applied Research in Cancer Control at the British Columbia Cancer Agency, analyzed the cost-effectiveness of lung cancer screening by computed tomography (3-D imaging). He and his colleagues in the Pan-Canadian Early Detection of Lung Cancer Study found that the costs of screening high-risk individuals and treating discovered cancerous nodules were lower than the costs of treating advanced lung cancer patients, highlighting the economic benefits of lung cancer screening for those at high-risk.