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Quarterly Research Update
October 2009

Learning About the Mechanisms of Aggressive Lung Cancer Metastasis

Lung cancer is expected to account for about 15% of cancer diagnoses in 2009. Unfortunately, lung cancer also accounts for the most cancer-related deaths in both men and women. One type of lung cancer, lung adenocarcinoma, can metastasize rapidly to multiple organs, but the most common site of metastasis is the brain. In a study published in the journal Cell, researchers, including former American Cancer Society grantees Mark G. Kris, MD; Mark Ladanyi, MD; and Joan Massague, PhD, of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (New York, New York), used a combination of genetic and animal model studies to identify a key pathway involved in the rapid metastasis of lung adenocarcinoma to the brain and bones, which could be targeted for the development of treatments for lung cancer patients at risk for metastasis (July, 2009, 51-62).

One of the many signaling pathways used by cells to orchestrate various stages of development is called the WNT/TCF pathway. This particular pathway interested the researchers because previous research established that when this pathway is not regulated properly it plays a role in colorectal cancer. These researchers found that genetic indicators of over-activation in this pathway were associated with lung cancer recurrence and metastasis.

Efforts to understand how the WNT/TCF pathway caused metastasis led to the identification of two genes that mediate the metastatic process. Reducing the activity of these genes in tumor cells prevented the cancerous cells from metastasizing to the brain and bone. These findings may lead to further understanding of why some cancers, like lung, have the ability to metastasize rapidly while others, such as breast, typically require a longer time-period.

The American Cancer Society provides detailed information about lung cancer, its risk factors, and treatments around the clock at cancer.org or 1-800-227-2345. This study reflects just one of the many advances being made by numerous Society investigators who – along with the Society itself – are committed to saving lives by helping people stay well and get well, by finding cures, and by fighting back against cancer. All of their hard work is bringing us closer to a world with less cancer and more birthdays.

Visit cancer.org to learn more about non-small cell lung cancer or small cell lung cancer.

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