The researchers at The Institute of Cancer Research scanned the genomes of 1,900 lung cancer patients and compared them to 1,400 healthy individuals to identify specific changes in the DNA that were linked with an increased risk of lung cancer.
They then scanned the genes of a further 2,000 lung cancer patients for these changes and compared these to a similar number of healthy people.
This identified changes in three regions of the genome which were more common in lung cancer patients than healthy individuals. These regions sat on chromosomes 5, 6, and 15, implicating these regions in lung cancer.
Their work shows more complexity than originally thought for the chromosome 15 association. Specifically the association involves two independent sites that could play a role in lung cancer. Previous research has shown that variation at these two sites influence lung cancer risk and these findings confirm this.
This work had calculated that current or former smokers who carry one copy of each variant increase their risk of lung cancer by 28 per cent while current or former smokers who carry two copies of each variant increase their risk by 80 percent. While people who do not smoke can also carry these changes the risk is only increased in those that smoke.
These variants are located in a family of genes that influence smoking behaviour and consumption of tobacco. In addition this set of genes also influences cell growth and cell death.
Lead author Professor Richard Houlston, a Cancer Research UK funded scientist at The Institute of Cancer Research, said: “This research confirms work done at the ICR and elsewhere that has previously implicated these areas in lung cancer risk and the type that develops. The next step is to dig deeper to pin point which gene, or genes in these regions, cause the increased risk of developing lung cancer and how they actually trigger this increase.”
The researchers found that the variation at chromosome 5 influenced the type of lung cancer that developed. Those that carried this variant are more likely to develop a subtype of non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) called adenocarcinoma, which accounts for 27 per cent of lung cancers in the UK and is the most common type of lung cancer in non-smokers.
The final region identified on chromosome 6 could influence the type of NSCLC that develops, either adenocarcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma.
Dr Lesley Walker, director of cancer information at Cancer Research UK, said: “Smoking greatly increases the risk of lung cancer – causing nine out of ten cases of the disease. This research shows that inherited genetic variation accounts for some of this risk and the type of lung cancer that develops.
“It’s important to remember that smoking also increases the risk of other life-threatening diseases including heart disease, stroke and a dozen other cancers. The best thing a smoker can do to reduce their risk of lung cancer, and a range of other life-threatening conditions, is to quit.”
For media enquiries please contact the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 7061 8300 or, out-of-hours, the duty press officer on 07050 264 059.
Notes to Editors:
Lung cancer is the second most common form of cancer in the UK after breast cancer. Smoking and passive smoking cause nine out of ten lung cancers.
There are several types of lung cancer and they are divided into two main groups:
• Small cell lung cancers account for around 20 per cent of lung cancers. Small cell lung cancer is called this because the cancer cells are small cells that are mostly filled with the nucleus (the control centre of cells). This type of cancer is usually always caused by smoking.
• Non-small cell lung cancers are split into three types: Squamous cell carcinoma, adenocarcinoma and large cell carcinoma. Squamous cell cancer is the most common type of lung cancer and is often caused by smoking. The number of people developing adenocarcinoma is increasing and may soon become the most common type of lung cancer.
There are around 39,000 new cases of lung cancer in the UK each year. Each year more than 33,000 people die from the disease.
Lung cancer is the most common cancer in the world with 1.3 million people diagnosed every year. Worldwide, the highest rates of lung cancer in men are currently in the regions of Central and Eastern Europe, and for women in Northern America.
Smoking and risk of lung cancer
Smoking is the single biggest preventable cause of cancer in the world. It is responsible for nine out of ten deaths from lung cancer in the UK, with smokers overall 15 times more likely than non-smokers to die from the disease.
Half of all smokers eventually die from lung cancer or another smoking-related illness. And a quarter of smokers die in middle age – between 35 and 69.
The good news is that most of these deaths are preventable by giving up smoking in time.
The more cigarettes a person smokes a day, the higher their risk of cancer. But a person’s risk of cancer is increased even if they only smoke a few cigarettes a day. Light smoking can still endanger health.
Studies have shown that people who smoke 1–4 cigarettes a day are still almost three times more likely to die of heart disease and women who smoke this amount have five times the risk of lung cancer than non-smokers.
Some scientists have found that the number of years a person smokes for affects their cancer risk more strongly than the number of cigarettes they smoke a day. For example, smoking one pack a day for 40 years is more dangerous than smoking two packs a day for 20 years.
The best way to reduce the risk of cancer is to give up smoking completely.