By Robert Bazell, NBC's chief science and health correspondent
Causing some 180,000 deaths a year, lung cancer remains by far the biggest cancer killer. The preliminary research we're reporting on Wednesday raises the hope of cutting those numbers, but we have to have emphasize these are early studies in only a handful of people.
The research report appears in a journal called ScienceTranslational Medicine. This is a relatively new and very exciting publication from the American Association for the Advancement of Science. It focuses on research that is right on the edge of moving from the laboratory bench to human application. You can read the research for yourself here:
Editor's Summary: http://stm.sciencemag.org/content/2/26/26ra25.editor-summary
Full Text: http://stm.sciencemag.org/content/2/26/26ra25.full
Scientists estimate that 90 percent of lung cancer cases in men and 80 percent in women are caused by smoking cigarettes. Conversely, even with this enormous danger, not every smoker and former smoker gets lung cancer -- the number is between 10 and 20 percent, still a frighteningly huge number.
The research out Wednesday seems to identify a pattern of genes disrupted by the toxins in cigarette smoke that identifies smokers who are at risk. Just as important, it finds that in six out of 10 people, a drug called Inositol seems to turn off the abnormal genes and return precancerous cells to normal. Inositol is a plant extract already sold in health food stores that seems to have few side effects. Why not just give Inositol to every smoker or former smoker to reduce the chances of lung cancer? In a trial sponsored by the National Cancer Institute, the Mayo Clinic is attempting just such as strategy.
You can learn more about that trial here: http://www.clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT00783705?term=inositol&rank=4
The results should be out within two years.
If you smoked, why not just go to your health food store and buy some Inositol? There is nothing to stop you. But until the clinical trial is finished, no responsible physician would advise it because the clinical trial may reveal some side effects that are still unknown. Moreover, the research we're reporting on may allow doctors to someday target the drug at those who would benefit most.