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Our impact on lung cancer

Ann - lung cancer survivorWe're fighting over 200 cancers, and lung cancer is in our sights. Every single pound donated helps fund our groundbreaking research, bringing closer the day when all cancers will be cured.

Every year more than thirty thousand people lose their lives to lung cancer. Although some progress has been made, we urgently need to do more to change this grim statistic and are committed to increasing our efforts to improve lung cancer survival over the coming years.

Smoking causes more than eight out of ten cases of lung cancer, and many thousands of lives could be saved if more smokers kicked the habit. We are committed to cutting cancer deaths due to smoking, and our research and campaigning have helped contribute to millions of smokers quitting. And our plain packaging campaign, The Answer is Plain, will give thousands of children one less reason to start.

Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, our researchers have made steady progress in identifying other causes of lung cancer, revealing the gene faults that drive the disease, and developing more effective ways to spot it earlier and treat it more effectively - vital research we continue to fund today.

Our researchers are heroes. Find out how your donation could support their pioneering, life-saving work.

Here are just a few examples of our progress:

Smoking and lung cancer

Over a quarter of all cancer deaths are linked to smoking. Over the years, our groundbreaking research has shown beyond doubt the risks of smoking and the benefits of quitting, helping to save millions of lives.

We supported influential long-term studies that showed the risks of smoking, including world-renowned work by Sir Richard Doll, Sir Richard Peto and others. They showed that half of all regular smokers will die early as a result of their tobacco addiction1, losing on average ten years of life.

The results of our work have informed medical advice and public policy. For example, we funded research that has helped to shape the treatments that are offered by the NHS Stop Smoking services. And we have been supporting the annual National No Smoking Day for many years, which has helped over 1.5 million smokers to quit since it started in 1984.

Influencing government health policy

In the 1990s, we funded influential research that supported the case for a ban on tobacco advertising. And with our public health partners we were instrumental in campaigning for smoke-free legislation across the UK, which came into force in 2006-7 – a move that experts predict will prevent around 40,000 premature deaths over the next 10 years.

Our ‘Out of Sight, Out of Mind’ campaign has played a major role in achieving further anti-tobacco legislation, including the proposed removal of point-of-sale displays and vending machines. We are now campaigning for plain packaging of cigarettes to combat the slickly designed, heavily branded packs that are attractive to children. These measures will play a significant part in protecting future generations from tobacco. And our continual campaigning for hefty taxation of tobacco has helped to cut UK smoking rates.

We were also influential in the development of the WHO Framework Convention on tobacco control, which came into force in 2005. This was a milestone for promoting public health and reducing smoking around the world. With others, we also pushed for an EU Directive that led to removal of misleading ‘light’ and ‘mild’ descriptions and the introduction of larger, more impactful warnings on cigarette packets.

Overall, our influential research and comprehensive anti-tobacco strategy – along with our determination in tackling smoking – have helped to reduce smoking rates by a quarter over the past decade. This will prevent many thousands of cases of lung cancer in the future.

Other risk factors

Although smoking is the major cause of lung cancer, it is not the only one. We funded important research into some of the other causes of lung cancer. Our scientists showed that the presence of the radioactive gas radon in people’s homes could increase the risk of the disease, particularly among smokers.2

And we helped to shed light on the relationship between exposure to asbestos at work and a type of lung cancer called mesothelioma. These findings are informing health and safety policy, helping to save lives in the future.3

Better treatments

We were involved in the development and testing of several drugs that are commonly used to treat lung cancer today, including cisplatin, carboplatin, pemetrexed and etoposide.

In the 1990s we developed a new radiotherapy routine for lung cancer, called CHART4. Clinical trials have shown that this can improve survival for patients with the most common type of lung cancer. We also helped to develop more accurate techniques for giving radiotherapy for lung cancer, taking into account the movement as a patient breathes, helping to treat the disease more effectively while reducing side effects.

Finally, we funded clinical trials of a new drug combination - pemetrexed (Alimta) and carboplatin - for treating mesothelioma, showing that it has the potential to almost double the life expectancy of people with the disease. We then put pressure on NICE to reconsider their decision not to make Alimta available to patients on the NHS, and the drug was finally approved for advanced mesothelioma in 2007.

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  1. Peto et al, Mortality from tobacco in developed countries: indirect estimation from national vital statistics. Lancet. 1992 May 23;339(8804):1268-78.
  2. Darby et al, Radon in homes and risk of lung cancer: collaborative analysis of individual data from 13 European case-control studies. BMJ. 2005 Jan 29;330(7485):223.
  3. Rake et al, Occupational, domestic and environmental mesothelioma risks in the British population: a case-control study. Br J Cancer. 2009 Apr 7;100(7):1175-83.
  4. Saunders et al, Continuous, hyperfractionated, accelerated radiotherapy (CHART) versus conventional radiotherapy in non-small cell lung cancer: mature data from the randomised multicentre trial. Radiother Oncol. 1999 Aug; 52(2):137-48.
Updated: 6 July 2010