A new study has found the 'RGS17' as a distinct gene that is linked to increased lung cancer susceptibility and development.
Cancer cell biologists at the University of Cincinnati (UC) say that this gene can predispose people with a strong family history of lung cancer towards developing the disease.
They say that further research may make the gene a marker to identify high-risk patients who may benefit from earlier, more aggressive lung cancer screening.
"Understanding how the RGS17 gene impacts cancer development could change clinical diagnosis and treatment as radically as discovery of the breast cancer genes (BRCA1 and BRCA2) did. A proven genetic test could help us identify people at risk before the disease progresses," said Dr. Marshall Anderson, who has led the multi-institutional Genetic Epidemiology of Lung Cancer Consortium (GELCC).
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer related disease and death, which is primarily caused by tobacco smoke. However, science has shown that there is also a strong genetic component to the disease.
"This study represents a significant contribution to our understanding of lung cancer susceptibility and is another step toward to the goal of preventive medicine. The authors undertook a daunting challenge of performing a family-based study of lung cancer in an effort to identify specific causal genes," said David Christiani at the Harvard School of Public Health.
For the study, the researchers collected biological samples from numerous multigenerational families with five or more members who were affected by lung cancer.
By a combination of what is known as "fine mapping"-where genetic information is dissected and analysed-and genetic association studies, they identified RGS17 as a major candidate susceptibility gene for familial lung cancers.
The researchers used a genetically altered mouse model, and found lung tumours to shrink when RGS17 was suppressed, which indicated that the gene was involved in cancer development and must be present for cancer growth.
"What was most interesting is that this same gene was over-expressed in 60 percent of the samples from non-hereditary lung tumours. This suggests that perhaps epigenetic factors may be contributing to abnormal genetic development," said Anderson.
Additional research is underway to find out how environmental factors may influence familial cancer development.
The study has been published in a recent issue of the journal Clinical Cancer Research.