"Lung tumors are initiated by mutations in other genes, so we were surprised that a hyperactive WNT pathway would be responsible for metastasis in lung cancer," said the study's senior author, Joan Massague, who chairs Sloan-Kettering's biology and genetics program.
Nguyen said the finding has important implications, including the possible development of therapies that target the pathway.
"There's nothing on the market yet," he said, adding that research will now focus on the weakest links of the pathway for a possible targeted treatment. "The marker can also help physicians decide whether to use more aggressive therapies, such as radiation, earlier in the treatment to help ward off any future metastasis."
Lung cancer is the nation's No. 1 cancer killer, claiming the lives of nearly 200,000 people in the United States each year. There are several forms of the disease, which is usually, but not always, caused by cigarette smoking. Adenocarcinoma forms in the glands that produce mucus and is the most common type of lung cancer in women and among people who have not smoked, according to LungCancer.org. It also spreads rapidly to distant organs, often within months, even if doctors remove the primary tumor.
Survival rates for lung cancer are poor, with only about 15 percent of people with the disease surviving five years. But the researchers hope that their study and others will speed the development of better therapies.
"Our findings suggest that using treatments that target the WN
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