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Research Highlight | December 09, 2020

Lung study team’s findings on early detection translate into first lung cancer screening program in Canada

In summer 2020, the Province of BC announced it is establishing a lung cancer screening program, the first of its kind in Canada. The announcement was welcome news to BC residents and to the researchers who have contributed an important body of work to help save lives through early detection of the disease. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in Canada.

Among those excited by the announcement was Dr. Stephen Lam, chair of British Columbia’s Provincial Lung Tumour Group at BC Cancer and a professor of medicine at the University of British Columbia. He and his colleagues who have made significant research advances in the early detection of lung cancer through the Early Detection Pan-Canadian Lung Study (Pan-Can Study)  which TFRI (joint with the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer first funded over a decade ago.

“It is a blessing to be able to see the Terry Fox Research Institute translational research program involving eight centres across Canada come to fruition. The PanCan study lays the foundation to advance lung cancer screening in Canada and showcases how to implement a cost-effective lung cancer screening program,” remarked Dr. Lam. 

This multidisciplinary team’s work has shown that early detection of lung cancer saves lives and that screening is an efficient and cost-effective tool for early detection.  The team developed a world-leading predictive model that helps find lung cancer in early stages when the disease has a greater potential to be curable. They have now developed a new algorithm using deep learning that can detect lung cancer up to three years before it forms.

“We would like to both congratulate and thank Dr. Lam and his team for their remarkable work and contributions to the field of lung cancer early detection. We know that early detection saves lives and the work of this group proves that. TFRI made a significant investment over a decade ago to fund lung cancer research and this screening program announcement shows the value of that investment,” said Dr. Victor Ling, TFRI president and scientific director.

The PanCan study was the first in the world to use a risk prediction model to identify ever smokers who would benefit most from lung cancer screening and demonstrated its advantage compared to age and pack-years smoking history criteria. The lung nodule malignancy calculator that was developed as part of this study also enables clinicians to predict which nodule found on a screening CT scan is cancerous with a high degree of accuracy to personalize management.

The PanCan study builds capacity across Canada to develop strategies to recruit high-risk individuals for screening, training of radiologists to read screening CT scans and clinicians to gain experience how to diagnose and treat early lung cancers.

“Translating research to clinical implementation does not have the same glamour to attract research funding as discovery research. However, until this is done, patients will not reap the benefits,” said Dr. Lam. “We are most grateful to the Terry Fox Research Institute for their support to enable us to carry the baton to the finish line to pave the way to transform the outcome for lung cancer patients through detecting and treating lung cancer early.”