Medical Researchers are working to identify markers that predict cancer risk, target cancer-causing genes for therapy and develop inhaled treatment to prevent cancer.
Lung Cancer is the second most common cancer among both women and men. There were 177,000 new cases of lung cancer and 158,700 deaths in the United States in 1996. In spite of aggressive treatment regimens, five-year survival rates for inoperable lung cancer have not improved over the past 25 years. Today, 48 million people smoke and 34 million are former smokers. Smoking cessation programs have led to a decline in the prevalence of smoking among adults in the United States from 42% to 25%. These former smokers, however, still have a greater risk for lung cancer. In fact, an increasing number of persons now being diagnosed with lung cancer have quit for more than five years. The challenge for scientists is to:
develop better means to detect cancer early when it can be cured;
identify persons with premalignant disease so they can be monitored more closely and treated with chemopreventive drugs;
develop better therapies to treat lung cancer.
A team of scientists led by Dr. Steven Belinsky, Director of the Lung Cancer Program at LRRI, has been funded by the National Institutes of Health to carry out several critical studies directed toward ultimately controlling lung cancer.
Working with Drs. Frank Gilliland and Richard Crowell at the University of New Mexico Cancer Center and Veterans Medical Center in Albuquerque, Dr. Belinsky has initiated a hospital-based, case-control study of lung cancer patients and cancer-free smokers. This study will identify the alterations in chromosomes that are strongly associated with this disease. Findings from this five-year research study should identify genetic markers that predict cancer risk. These advances will lead to a screening process to identify persons at greater risk for lung cancer. Genetic markers of lung cancer risk can also be used to assess the effect of dietary supplements on reducing premalignant lung disease.
Dr. Belinsky’s laboratory is actively pursuing another critical area of research: identification of cancer-causing genes that can ultimately be targeted for therapy. In collaboration with Dr. Stephen Baylin at Johns Hopkins University, Dr. Belinsky is studying a tumor suppressor gene called p16 which can be silenced in cancer. Scientists believe that this mode of gene silencing can be reversed with certain drugs. Researchers are trying to determine whether this gene is silenced early in lung cancer development and how it happens. This fundamental knowledge could be used to develop approaches to specifically re-express the p16 gene to slow the development of malignant lung cancer in current and former smokers.
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