The NCRI Lung Group has identified lung cancer in never smokers as a critical area of focus and recently hosted a virtual event to bring the community together and support them in building a research strategy for never smoker lung cancer patients.

Lung cancer is highly prevalent in people who have never smoked, with estimates ranging from 10% to 25% of lung cancers occurring in never smokers (Couraud, 2012). Never smokers tend to present with non-specific symptoms. Typical symptoms such as a cough, difficulty breathing and coughing blood occur in half as many never smokers as smokers (Hamilton, 2005). As a result, never smokers often receive a lung cancer diagnosis at a late stage, as their symptoms are less likely to trigger follow up testing. A late-stage diagnosis usually means worse outcomes.

I was privileged to open this event dedicated to an often overlooked patient cohort, who can feel let down by delays in diagnosis, treatment options and general lack of awareness that anyone can develop lung cancer. Translating the fascinating discussions from the possible causes and challenges into actionable research and treatments is crucial to improve the current situation.

Janette Rawlinson, NCRI Consumer, NCRI Lung Advanced Disease Subgroup

The NCRI Lung Group has identified lung cancer in never smokers as a critical area of focus. The group recently hosted a virtual event to bring the community together to understand why lung cancer in never smokers is so prevalent and hard to diagnose. The event aimed to identify a set of research priorities to help the group develop a strategy for never smoker lung cancer patients.

It has been great to see the interest this event generated. Our thanks go to the speakers in the morning sessions that helped identify the gaps in our knowledge and to all the participants in the afternoon in helping identify the key research questions. The level of interest shown gives us confidence that the UK will support and deliver research studies that can improve outcomes for this group of patients.

Matthew Hatton, Consultant and Honorary Professor in Clinical Oncology at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust / University of Sheffield

The event covered the following topics:

  • Patient experience, outcomes and wellbeing
  • Biology and public health
  • Current practice in the never smoker population

Delegates commented on the amount of research currently ongoing in this area but also noted the sheer number of questions that remain unanswered. It was clear that there is an opportunity to bring this research community together to learn from each other and to develop a strategy to make progress for the benefit of never smoker lung cancer patients.

If you were unable to attend the event, you can register to watch on-demand.

A picture of a smoking cigarette, a cause of lung cancer
Cigarette smoking is the number one risk factor for lung cancer

Before the event, delegates completed a survey identifying critical unanswered questions in the field. The questions identified shaped the discussions during the event.

In breakout groups, participants discussed the research priorities under the themes of early detection and treatment. Each was addressed in relation to discovery and biological research, living with and beyond cancer and clinical research, focusing on patient outcomes.

Observations included:

  • The size of the population and burden of never smoker lung cancer on patients and the healthcare system
  • Lack of data on patients living with never smokers lung cancer and missing differentiation between smokers and non-smokers in records
  • The amount, complexity and diversity of research into never smoker lung cancer that is ongoing, but needs to be connected

This work will help the NCRI Lung Group build their strategy for never smoker lung cancer patients.