Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related death and thus a major health problem. The efficiency of current treatment modalities for lung cancer depends strongly on the time of diagnosis, with better chances of survival if a tumor has been detected at an early stage. Thus, there is an urgent need for rapid and efficient early detection methods. Biomarkers represent a possible alternative to current, rather expensive, screening tools such as spiral computer tomography (CT), or may allow the identification of high risk groups for whom screening would be cost efficient. Although most lung cancers are the consequence of smoking, a substantial fraction of molecular-epidemiological studies point to high-prevalence, low-penetrance genetic polymorphisms as modifiers of environmental lung cancer risk. In the past the genomics field has also made significant advances in identifying genetic lesions that can now be harvested with the goal of identifying novel biomarkers for lung cancer. Furthermore, the importance of epigenetic changes that occur during lung cancer development has been reported, but has been underestimated in the past. Novel high-throughput, quantitative assays for the detection of DNA methylation or histone tail modifications are now applied, to search for alterations in the lung cancer genome and will identify novel cancer-related genes that may become attractive targets for treatment, provide new insight into the biology of lung cancers, and could also become useful biomarkers for the early detection of lung cancer in sputum, or may be used as prognostic markers. Thus, an integrative approach in lung cancer research combining epidemiological, genetic and epigenetic information becomes an important concept for the future.
(c) 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.