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Lung Cancer Can Stay Dormant For 20 Years

Lung cancer is devastating. It is one of the most common types of cancer in the UK - over 40,000 people are diagnosed with lung cancer every year - but treatment is difficult and the rates of survival are low. Compared with other cancers, the outlook for people developing lung cancer is not as good.

Overall around one in three will live for a year after diagnoses and fewer than one in ten will live for five years or more.

Lung cancer main affects older people and is rare in those younger than 40; it is also associated with smoking.

One of the big problems is that there are usually no signs or early symptoms in the early stages of lung cancer meaning that the cancer can spread before it is finally detected.

Now there is even more bad news.

It seems the first genetic mutations of lung cancer can go undetected for up to 20 years; remaining dormant during that time before it is triggered into an aggressive form of the disease.

Professor Charles Swanton, who specialises in cancer research at the London Research Institute, says that in a recent study his team of researchers have discovered that following an initial genetic fault, often caused by smoking, lung cancer genes can adapt and mutate. What this means is that some of us who may have given up smoking even nearly 20 years ago may still be harbouring a problem that has yet to manifest itself. 

This of course goes along with the fact that cancer mainly affects older people.

However, the confirmation in this study that there can be a prolonged latency period as lung cancer develops is definitely a step forward and the next step is to find ways to detect a lung cancer tumour long before it appears on a CT scan.

As with all cancers, the sooner lung cancer is treated the better. Early symptoms include a persistent cough, breathlessness, unexplained tiredness and weigh loss or ache or pain when breathing or coughing. Surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy is often used in treating lung cancer but because the cancer is usually detected after it has already spread, treatment is not always successful.

If you were a smoker, even years ago and then gave it up; it is worth keeping this in mind and if you develop any symptoms that cause you concern, go and see your doctor immediately.

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