Scientists believe new information about the most deadly form of cancer could lead to fewer victims in the future.
A study published in the journal Science and conducted by Cancer Research UK says lung cancer can lie dormant in ex-smokers for two decades before flaring up and becoming aggressive.
The study, however, dealt with a very small sampling size, a total of seven people including current smokers, ex-smokers and and some who have never smoked.
According to the study, the original mutations in lung cells that cause lung cancer may happen years before symptoms appear so the cancer is not detected until additional mutations occur in the lung cells potentially years later. (Video via YouTube / BioDigital)
And that's the big problem: Patients and physicians don't detect the original mutations, but by the time additional mutations occur in the lung, the cancer has progressed significantly, putting doctors a step behind.
The chief scientist at Cancer Research UK said in a statement: "This fascinating research highlights the need to find better ways to detect lung cancer earlier when it's still following just one evolutionary path. If we can nip the disease in the bud and treat it before it has started travelling down different evolutionary routes we could make a real difference in helping more people survive the disease."
While lung cancer predominantly affects those who are 65 and over, it also kills more than 85 percent of those who develop the disease within five years of the diagnosis.
Lung cancer is also one of the most common forms of the disease, causing more deaths per year than breast and pancreatic cancer combined.
This video includes an image from Julie Bocchino / CC BY 2.0.