Research Into Why Some Cancer Drugs Work Only Sometimes Reveals A Possible New Way To Treat Cancer

Lung cancer is not just a disease of smokers. And, it turns out, nonsmokers with lung cancer benefit most from two relatively new cancer drugs.

Now, cancer researchers wanting to know why have found it's because many of their tumors are genetically different from those of smokers.

William Pao/Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center: "So this suggests to us that never nonsmokers have a distinct type of lung cancer that may be treated differently from the rest of patients with lung cancer."

William Pao of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center explain in the journal proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that he and his colleagues studied lung tumors from both types of patients and compared their gene sequences. He says of the 170 thousand new cases of lung cancer each year, about a tenth are in people who never smoked.

William Pao/Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center: "You're talking potentially about 17 thousand patients a year that may have a distinct type of lung cancer separate from the rest of lung cancer."

Pao suggests this may lead to a whole new way of looking at lung cancer.

William Pao/ Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center: "These findings suggest to us that there is going to be multiple other subsets of lung cancers and we and other groups are working hard to try to find what these other groups are."

Pao says finding those new groups could allow doctors to tailor chemotherapy to the exact type of lung cancer.