Lung cancer can lie dormant for over 20 years

A study, published in Science, reports that UK Investigators have discovered that lung cancer can stay hidden for over 20 years before suddenly turning into an aggressive form of the disease. The findings help improve early detection of the disease.


It is a great discovery that after the first genetic mistakes that cause the cancer, it can exist undetected for many years until new, additional faults trigger rapid growth of the disease. During its expansion, there is a surge of different genetic faults appearing in Separate areas of tumors, along with each distinct section evolving down different paths.

As an involved researcher said, “Lung cancer is the world’s deadliest cancer, killing an estimated 4,300 people a day. Many new targeted treatments make a limited impact on the disease, resulting in survival rate remaining significant low. By understanding how it develops we’ve opened up the disease’s evolutionary rule book in the hope that we can start to predict its next steps.”

The study also highlighted the role of smoking in the development of lung cancer. Many of the early genetic faults are caused by smoking. But as the disease evolved these became less important with the majority of faults now caused by a new process generating mutations within the tumour controlled by a protein called APOBEC.

The wide variety of faults found within lung cancers explains why targeted treatments have had limited success. Attacking a particular genetic mistake identified by a biopsy in lung cancer will only be effective against those parts of the tumour with that fault, leaving other areas to thrive and take over.


Spatial and temporal diversity in genomic instability processes defines lung cancer evolution. Science, 2014; 346 (6206): 251