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Genetic Susceptibility to Lung Cancer


Thursday 1 June 2006


Researchers from The Institute of Cancer Research today reveal the results of the largest ever genome-wide scan for lung cancer-susceptibility which found 64 specific sequence changes in the genome that can affect an individual’s risk of lung cancer. The study is published today in Genome Research*.


Lung cancer is the most common cancer in the world with around 38,000 new cases in the UK alone each year and 33,000 deaths. The majority of cases are caused by a single environmental factor: tobacco smoke. Studies have proved that long-term cigarette smokers have a 10-fold increased risk of acquiring lung cancer when compared to non-smokers. However, in recent years it has been suggested that hereditary factors may contribute to lung cancer susceptibility.


The researchers found 64 specific changes that affect lung cancer susceptibility. The changes are “low-penetrance alleles” meaning that individually they only contribute to the development of cancer in a minor way.


As part of the UK based Genetic Lung Cancer Predisposition Study (GELCAPS), the researchers tested DNA samples from 2707 healthy individuals and 1529 lung cancer patients. They chose 871 genes with a presumptive role in cancer biology; of these, they identified 64 alleles that were associated with lung cancer development.


Professor Richard Houlston from The Institute of Cancer Research, who co-led the study with Dr Tim Eisen from The Institute of Cancer Research and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust said, “The exact nature of lung cancer susceptibility is extremely complex, it is important to remember that tobacco smoke is far and away the biggest risk factor for lung cancer. Whilst our research indicates that certain individuals could be at a higher risk of developing the disease it has been proven that the majority of cases of lung cancer are caused by tobacco smoke.”


Professor Peter Rigby, Chief Executive of The Institute of Cancer Research commented: “Lung cancer is one of the most preventable cancers and we know that smoking directly causes 9 out of ten cases of the disease. It has been suggested that there is a hereditary link in some cases and these data shows that whilst there is no specific gene a series of mutations could increase some people’s risk. However it is imperative to be aware that these mutations are “low penetrance” meaning they will only appear in certain cases, not all. Further research is needed to ascertain the exact effect of these mutations and how they can affect people’s risk.”


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For further information please contact:

The Institute of Cancer Research Press Office

T: 020 7153 5359 / 07788 427 856

E: [email protected]


Notes to Editors:

*The manuscript will be published in the June issue of Genome Research and will appear online (DOI: 10.1101/gr.5120106) on June 1.

  • Professor Richard S. Houlston and Dr Tim Eisen were chief investigators on this study
  • This research was funded by Cancer Research UK, the Arbib Foundation, HEAL, the National Cancer Research Network, the European Union Network of Excellence and The Institute of Cancer Research.
  • Carrying out such a large scale and cutting-edge research effort was made possible by the establishment of the UK's unique National Cancer Research Network, which enrols as many cancer patients in important research activities as in the entire USA.


The Institute of Cancer Research

  • The Institute of Cancer Research is Europe’s leading cancer research centre with expert scientists working on cutting edge research. It was founded in 1909 to carry out research into the causes of cancer and to develop new strategies for its prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care. Website at:
  • The Institute works in a unique partnership with The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, forming the largest comprehensive cancer centre in Europe. This relationship enables close daily contact with those on the frontline in the fight against cancer - the clinicians, the carers and most importantly, the patients.
  • The Institute is a charity that relies on voluntary income. The Institute is one of the world’s most cost-effective major cancer research organisations with over 90p in every £ directly supporting research.


The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust

  • The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust is a leader in the field of cancer, seeing more than 40,000 patients across its sites in London and Surrey each year. It has a successful record of innovation in nursing care, pioneering new treatments and the development of anti-cancer drugs.
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