What is lung cancer?

Lung cancer arises from cells that line the airways of the lungs. The disease can be broadly classified into small cell lung cancer, which is the most aggressive form and accounts for about 15% of all cases, and non-small cell lung cancer.

Lung Cancer is the leading cause of cancer related deaths in Australia and is thus, a major public health problem.

Significant work has been done to develop new treatments for lung cancer, and these can be given based on specific features of a patient’s cancer. It is therefore increasingly important to undertake diagnostic molecular testing on lung cancers to help identify the best possible treatment strategies for individuals.

What causes lung cancer?

It is estimated that 1 in 20 Australians are at a risk of being diagnosed with lung cancer before they reach 85 years of age. There are multiple factors that can contribute to an individual having an increased risk of lung cancer. The lifestyle or environmental factors include smoking (active and passive), exposure to occupational chemicals and air pollution; while the personal factors include increasing age, previous and/ or family history of cancer and other chronic lung conditions. Increasing numbers of patients are being diagnosed with lung cancer who have no history of smoking.

What lung cancer research is being done at UQCCR?

Endobronchial Ultrasound Transbronchial Needle Aspiration (EBUS-TBNA) is a minimally invasive technique that is commonly used to make a diagnosis of lung cancer. Patients with suspected lung cancer undergo this bronchoscopy technique and small tissue samples are taken from lymph nodes that are located next to the lungs. The aspirate material obtained from this method is used to create Diff-Quik stained cytology slides and Formalin-Fixed Paraffin Embedded (FFPE) blocks that are primarily used to make a formal tissue diagnosis of lung cancer and are then used for a variety of molecular tests. A major problem is that these samples can sometimes be too small to allow all tests to be undertaken.

Our program of work is therefore focused on improving the rates of molecular testing that can be achieved. Some of our research is focused on:

  • optimising the bronchoscopy technique to obtain better tissue samples;
  • enhancing the methods that are used for molecular testing on tissue samples, including the use of different types of next-generation sequencing (NGS) technology;
  • using blood samples (liquid biopsy) instead of tissue samples for molecular testing; and
  • integrating radiological imaging characteristics to predict whether tissue or blood-based molecular testing would be the most useful for an individual patient.

Research groups

Cancer genomics (Simpson Group)

Fast facts

  • 9.2% of all cancer cases diagnosed in 2021 was predicted to be lung cancer.
  • One in 29 males and one in 39 females are at a risk of dying from lung cancer by the age of 85.
  • Only about 20% of patients are alive 5 years after diagnosis.