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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 36% over the past two decades and in women by 11% since 2002.

Despite this progress, lung cancer is still the leading cause of cancer death 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)

In January 2014, the American Cancer Society and Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C), a charitable organization that supports cancer research initiatives, announced a collaboration focused on lung cancer. The two organizations worked together to create a lung cancer research “Dream Team” that is working 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.

The Society is focusing on lung cancer for the first project of this partnership. This initiative has the potential to result in new life-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 did 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: 93
Total ACS grant funding currently committed to Lung Cancer: $29,074,675

Spotlight on grantees: Following are some of the 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.

Sanja Percac-Lima 150x150Sanja Percac-Lima, M.D., Ph.D., at Massachusetts General Hospital is investigating whether bilingual community outreach workers can help increase lung cancer screening rates among older current and former smokers. Her work focuses 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.



Adam Leventhal PhDAdam Leventhal, PhD, at USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center is investigating the genetics of smokers in hopes of determining why some tobacco users have more severe withdrawal symptoms than others. His research focuses on African American smokers because they are more likely than Caucasians to die from lung cancer, and some research suggests they also have a harder time quitting. Leventhal believes his research will provide a better understanding of the biology of tobacco addiction and could lead to improved smoking cessation therapies.


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. 


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 August 1, 2016

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>