+ -Text Size

Lung Cancer Research Highlights

The American Cancer Society has a long history of finding answers to critical questions about lung cancer – what causes it, how can it be prevented, detected, and treated successfully, and how lung cancer patients’ quality of life can be improved. These efforts have helped reduce lung cancer death rates in men by nearly 30% over the past two decades, and death rates in women are following suit after increasing for many years.

Despite this progress, lung cancer is still the deadliest cancer in the U.S., and the Society is committed to saving more lives from this lethal disease.

Lung Cancer Research Collaboration with Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C)

The American Cancer Society and Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C), a charitable organization that supports cancer research initiatives, in January 2014 announced a collaboration focused on lung cancer. The two organizations will work together to create a lung cancer research “Dream Team” that will work to develop new therapies for lung cancer. The project will receive $20 million in funding over a three-year period. The Society and SU2C will each provide half of the funding.

In September 2014 the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), Stand Up To Cancer’s scientific partner, issued a call for research proposals. The selection process will be conducted by a Joint Scientific Advisory Committee, composed of an equal number of experts nominated by SU2C and the Society. The team itself will be announced in 2015.

The Society is focusing on lung cancer for the first project of this partnership. This initiative has the potential to result in new live-saving lung cancer treatments.

From ACS Researchers

The American Cancer Society employs a staff of full-time researchers who relentlessly pursue the answers that help us better understand cancer, including lung cancer.

One of the main ways Society researchers study lung cancer is through long-term cancer prevention studies, which they have been conducting since 1952.The Society’s long-term follow-up studies confirmed the link between smoking and lung cancer, secondhand smoke and lung cancer, and radon exposure and lung cancer.

Researchers in the Society’s Epidemiology Research Program continue to make new discoveries related to lung cancer by analyzing data on an ongoing basis from Cancer Prevention Study II (CPS-II), which the Society began in 1982. Recent findings include:

  • Women who smoke today have a much greater risk of death from lung cancer than did female smokers 20 or 40 years ago, likely reflecting changes in smoking behavior. Women smokers today smoke more like men than women in previous generations, beginning earlier in adolescence and, until recently, smoking more cigarettes per day. These results are based on data from CPS-II and other contemporary U.S. studies, analyzed by American Cancer Society researchers and others, and published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
  • Smoking cigarettes now causes more than 127,000 deaths from lung cancer in U.S. men and women each year, accounting for over 80% of all lung cancer deaths in the U.S. These results come from a major report issued by the Surgeon General in 2014, based on an analysis of CPS-II data along with data from other contemporary U.S. studies, conducted in part by American Cancer Society researchers.


The Society has also begun a new multi-year cancer prevention study, CPS-3, which will yield more findings about lung cancer in the future.

In addition, Society researchers in other program areas are conducting different types of lung cancer studies, including monitoring the issue worldwide. Recent findings include:

  • Globally, lung cancer death rates are declining for young women, but increasing for older women. Lindsey Torre, MSPH, the lead author on the study and director of surveillance information at the American Cancer Society, analyzed lung cancer death rates among women across 65 countries from 2006 to 2011. Torre and her co-authors attribute this age divergence – as well as differences found across countries – to variations in smoking patterns.
  • Africa is poised to become the “future epicenter of the tobacco epidemic,” according to an analysis by researchers in the Society’s Economic & Health Policy Research Program. The report warns that the number of adults in Africa who smoke could increase to 572 million by 2100, from 77 million today, unless leaders take steps to curb current trends.


ACS-Funded Research and Training Grants in Lung Cancer*

The Society also supports an Extramural Grants program that funds individual investigators engaged in cancer research or training at medical schools, universities, research institutes and hospitals throughout the U.S. Following rigorous and independent peer review, the most innovative research projects are selected for support.

Total ACS grants currently in effect addressing Lung Cancer: 101
Total ACS grant funding currently committed to Lung Cancer: $31,458,852

Spotlight on grantees: The following are some of lung cancer investigators currently being funded by the American Cancer Society who are working to find the answers that will save more lives and better prevent, treat, and manage lung cancer.

Prevention and Early Detection

Sanja Percac-Lima 150x150Sanja Percac-Lima, M.D., Ph.D., at Massachusetts General Hospital is going to study whether bilingual community outreach workers can help increase lung cancer screening rates among older current and former smokers. Her work will focus on patients who use community health centers, as they are much more likely to smoke compared with people who get care from a private practice. Percac-Lima hopes her study will reveal a way to prevent the development of lung cancer screening disparities.


Mick EdmondsMick Edmonds, Ph.D., at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, is researching what causes lung cancer cells to develop and progress to help improve early detection of the disease. Edmonds is studying two molecules in particular, which he has shown in preliminary studies control lung tumor cell growth and movement. Edmonds hopes that gaining a better understanding of these and other similar molecules will lead to insights into how to diagnose lung cancer earlier and identify lung tumors that are likely to relapse.



Sam CykertSam Cykert, M.D., at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, is working on ways to increase the number of African-American early stage lung cancer patients who undergo surgery to have their tumor removed. Patients who have surgery to remove their lung tumors at an early stage have a much higher survival rate than those who do not. African Americans, though, are far less likely than whites to get this surgery. This may be part of the reason that the lung cancer mortality rate among African Americans is higher than among any other race or ethnicity. Cykert is testing a multi-faceted intervention to address the barriers to lung cancer surgery that African Americans face.  

Alice BergerAlice Berger, Ph.D., at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, is working to discover more genetic mutations associated with lung cancer. The identification of new mutations can open the door to more and better treatment options for patients. Berger and her colleagues have already uncovered 4 new types of genetic mutations in the most common form of lung cancer.



 Curtis -Chong- 150x150Curtis Chong, M.D., Ph.D., at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, is testing more than 1,000 drugs to find ones that could be used in lung cancer patients whose tumors have become resistant to current treatments. By drawing from the existing drug pool, Chong hopes to bypass the long and expensive road to new drug development – and get viable treatments to patients sooner. Chong is focused on lung cancer patients who have a mutation in a gene called EGFR as this form of lung cancer very often develops resistance to the drug currently used to treat it. 


test tubes with writing James P. Sullivan, Ph.D., at Massachusetts General Hospital, is researching how lung cancer spreads to other parts of the body – or metastasizes. Sullivan has developed a mouse model that will allow him to study the way specific tumor cells involved in lung cancer metastasis work. Sullivan hopes the results will provide new insight into the fundamental processes that control lung metastasis and lead to new drug targets for patients.


Rob Svensson Robert U. Svensson, Ph.D., at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, is researching one of the genes that are most frequently mutated in lung cancer. This gene, LKB1, is a tumor suppressor gene. When working properly, it prevents cells from dividing uncontrollably and forming tumors. LKB1 mutations are associated with much more aggressive lung cancers and LKB1 mutant tumors are resistant to most cancer drugs. Svensson hopes that by gaining a deeper understanding of how LKB1 prevents tumor growth, he and others might be able to combat the growth of LKB1 mutant lung cancers.


woman talking to cancer patientCardinale Smith, M.D., at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, is researching the lung cancer care needs and barriers to receiving palliative care specific to minority patients with advanced lung cancer and their caregivers. Smith notes that minority lung cancer patients often underutilize palliative care – which addresses the side effects of cancer treatment – likely translating to increased suffering. Smith’s goal is for her findings to help inform the development of a culturally-appropriate palliative care intervention to help minority lung cancer patients.


*Information current as of March 1, 2015. 

Other Ways ACS Fights Lung Cancer

In addition to conducting and funding lung cancer research, the American Cancer Society helps fight lung cancer through education, support services, and advocacy. Explore how the Society helps>