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What’s New in Lung Cancer Research?

Research into the prevention, early detection, and treatment of lung cancer is being done in many medical centers worldwide.

Prevention

Tobacco

Prevention offers the greatest opportunity to fight lung cancer. Decades have passed since the link between smoking and lung cancers became clear, but smoking is still responsible for most lung cancer deaths. Research is continuing on:

  • Ways to help people quit smoking and stay tobacco-free through counseling, nicotine replacement, and other medicines
  • Ways to convince young people to never start smoking
  • Inherited differences in genes that may make some people much more likely to get lung cancer if they smoke or are exposed to someone else’s smoke (secondhand smoke)
  • Ways to understand why nonsmokers get lung cancer

Environmental causes

Researchers also continue to look into some of the other causes of lung cancer, such as exposure to asbestos, radon, and diesel exhaust. Finding new ways to limit these exposures could possibly save many more lives.

Diet, nutrition, and medicines

Researchers are looking for ways to use vitamins or medicines to prevent lung cancer in people at high risk, but so far none have been shown to clearly reduce risk.

Some studies have suggested that a diet high in fruits and vegetables may offer some protection, but follow-up studies have not confirmed this. While any protective effect of fruits and vegetables on lung cancer risk is likely to be much smaller than the increased risk from smoking, following the American Cancer Society dietary recommendations (such as getting to at a healthy weight and eating a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains) may still be helpful.

Early detection

As mentioned in Can Lung Cancer Be Found Early?, low-dose helical CT (LDCT) is used for lung cancer screening. People who used to or continue to smoke tobacco for a long period of time are considered to be at “high risk” and recommended for screening.  Screening lowers the risk of death from lung cancer.

Ongoing studies are looking at new ways to improve early detection of lung cancer:

  1. Ways to use molecular markers from your body fluid (i.e., sputum or blood) for lung cancer screening
  2. Ways to use new forms of bronchoscopies for lung cancer screening, such as autofluorescence bronchoscopy

Diagnosis

At present, a diagnosis of lung cancer is based on tissue biopsy. Researchers are continuing to look for other ways to help patients achieve an earlier diagnosis, for example:

  • Ways to look at blood samples to find tumor cells or parts of tumor cells
  • Ways to look at sputum samples to find tumor cells or parts of tumor cells

Treatment

There continues to be focus and interest in looking at how we can better understand each person’s tumor cells to kill the cells more effectively. While we know a lot about targeted therapy  and immunotherapy, there is still much to understand about when these treatments should be offered (before and/or after surgery) and if they should be given in combination with chemotherapy. Furthermore, the answers to these questions will vary depending on the stage of lung cancer, as each stage is treated differently. To learn more about ongoing clinical trials for lung cancer, ask your cancer care team for more information.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as editors and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

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Last Revised: January 29, 2024

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