Getting Ahead of Inherited Lung Cancer

Juhi Kunde, MA

Zeynep H. Gümüş, PhDMany people with family histories of cancer are getting tested to identify their cancer risk and take action before it starts. For example, the actress Angelina Jolie, who inherited the BRCA1 gene and whose mother died of ovarian cancer, underwent two preventive surgeries to reduce her risk of breast and ovarian cancer, while patients with an increased risk of colon cancer often take a daily dose of aspirin to reduce their risk.

LUNGevity awardee Zeynep H. Gümüş, PhD, Assistant Professor of Genetic and Genomic Sciences at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and an expert in using computational technology to analyze the biology of cancer cells, wanted families with a history of lung cancer to be able to reduce their risk, too.

“I was inspired by the progress in other cancers,” says Dr. Gümüş, “and I wanted to help the families of lung cancer patients by developing tests that would tell them if they are at increased risk of lung cancer.”

Identifying patients who are at high risk for lung cancer would mean they could be screened more frequently and the cancer could be detected earlier. Finding lung cancer early, in stage I or II, significantly increases survival.

Researchers have already been looking for genetic variants that predispose someone to lung cancer. So far, they have been using computing power to search through common variants. They have found some variants that could possibly demonstrate a predisposition to lung cancer in approximately 2% of the lung cancer population.

“The previous work is not enough to use to develop a risk assessment test for lung cancer,” explains Dr. Gümüş. “We need to look for rare genetic variations. Each person normally has about 100 to 150 rare variants. We need to compare them and see if we can find one or more variants that predispose someone to getting lung cancer.”

At Mount Sinai, Dr. Gümüş has a lot of computational power at her fingertips. “Our high-performance computing clusters are world-class. We have the storage capacity and computational power to look for these rare genomic variants in hundreds of people in a reasonable amount of time.”

Dr. Gümüş first took advantage of this computational powerhouse to make major breakthroughs in identifying genetic variants that drive cancer progression. Then, in 2014, she was ready to do the same for variants that predispose individuals to non-small cell lung cancer, so she assembled a team of expert collaborators and applied for a research grant from LUNGevity Foundation.

The LUNGevity grant, along with the team’s expertise and the tremendous computing power at Mount Sinai, allowed Dr. Gümüş and her team to study the rare genetic variations in a population of Ashkenazi Jews. By focusing on the genetics of this group, which has less genetic diversity than the general population, the team was able to reduce background noise and find the rare variants they needed. Ultimately, Dr. Gümüş and her team identified a set of genes that indicates an increased risk of non-small cell lung cancer.

Dr. Gümüş expects that her collaborators will move forward with these findings to develop a unique biomarker signature test that tells patients if their family members are at increased risk of lung cancer. “Family members will simply give spit or blood to the lab for testing,” she says. “More work is needed, just to confirm that this test is worth people’s time.  But based on our results, this panel of tests is very exciting.”

Encouraged by these results, Dr. Gümüş is applying for federal funding to continue her work. This time, she wants to look for genetic variations that predispose families to small cell lung cancer.

“This wouldn’t have been possible without the Early Detection Award from LUNGevity,” notes Dr. Gümüş. “Because of the award, I have learned so much about lung cancer detection and treatment. Plus, I am now part of an amazing network of lung cancer researchers that continues bringing hope and progress to lung cancer patients and their families.”

Juhi Kunde, MA, is a science writer for LUNGevity. Juhi Kunde


I am a mother of 3 grown children,
(50 yr. old, 47 yr. old and a 42 yr. old)
This past year I was treated for Lung Cancer. My question is should my grown children all be checked for it?
Thank you,
Candice Clark

Hi Candice, Thank you for reaching out. At this time, we do not have a test that can predict risk of developing lung cancer in children of parents who have lung cancer but scientists are working hard at it. 


Great research, thanks! I have a family history of NSCLC (3 generations) and I have twin sons that I am worried about. I am looking forward to a test becoming mainstream. I am part of the Icahn/Mt. Sinai early detection program with Claudia Henschke, do you know if she is part of that specific program?


Are there any family or ethnic genetic studies going on? I am from a family where lung cancer is prevalent. For example, my mother and four of her siblings died from similarly located primary NSCLC.

Yes, several studies are looking at the prevalence of lung cancer in specific ethnic groups. We will keep on updating our community as results from these studies become available.


Last year I had a cough and I got a pain in my upper right wing bone tat lasted around abhor. I went to urgent car and the doctor who examined me said It is a sprain. I wasn't satisfied, so I went to my primary the next day and he sent me for a chest X-ray. It showed I had a mass on my lung, then he sent me for a ct scan and thats when I found out I had a tumor on my upper right lobe. I went to a pulminologist, and he determined it as malignant. I got the shock of my life, because I am a very healthy woman, and never had any health problems. I had surgery on April 6, 207, and all went well. I had 4 treatments of chemo and 28 radiation treatments. My ct scan was good, and my pet scan was good. I am fine today. There is no lung cancer in my family. I do have an identical twin sister, she had a chest X-ray, and everything was good. Does she need to get tested.

Hi Kaye, Thank you for your question. Currently, there is no research that clearly shows that identical siblings have similar risks for cancer.  Your primary care physician and your oncologist would be the best people to advise on whether your sister needs to get testing. This would depend on exposure to other risk factors for lung cancer - such as radon, environmental pollution, etc. 


Diagnosed 6/2/16, upper right quadrant Lobectomy performed on 8/8/16, 3 month ct good 6 month sm tumor, 9 growing , year later PET SCAN biopsies missed, PET Scan with guided biopsy positive cancer cells found, then to heart dr. Okayed surgery, lung Dr. Okayed surgery, surgery lower left Lobectomy with 2 bronchoscopy scheduled in 9 days. Really worried as still pain of first lobectomy. Dr. quoted no more surgeries can be done with exertion I cannot breathe now. Can a good survival chance be made or am I just a ticking time bomb?


Hello Diana,  Thank you for reaching out. Your doctor will be in the best position to help you decide whether surgery or other treatment options are right for you. The decision for the next treatment should be made jointly by you and your doctor. 

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