Similar to the adenoma-carcinoma sequence of colorectal cancer, lung adenocarcinoma is thought to follow a linear multistep progression, in which a precursor lesion progresses to adenocarcinoma in situ, which is followed by invasive adenocarcinoma. However, lung adenocarcinoma can no longer be considered as a single type of tumor but rather a group of distinct subsets of tumors that arise from different molecular pathways. Consistent with this concept, recent findings revealed that this linear progression might not occur in all lung adenocarcinomas. First, according to the molecular classification based on expression profiling, lung cancer can be divided into at least two subsets; precancerous and in situ lesions share characteristics of molecular expression and clinical features with only one of the two subsets, suggesting that the linear progression is only applicable to the subset in the molecular classification. Second, when EGFR and KRAS were examined based on the progression steps, the mutation rate of KRAS was disproportionally distributed; however, according to the progression schema, gene alterations should be evenly accumulated along the entire progression. Third, by means of comparative genomic hybridization analysis, some adenocarcinoma in situ revealed gene alterations discontinuous to invasive adenocarcinoma. Finally, there were some clinical observations that support that some lesions escape from the progression. In this review, we hypothesize a novel scenario for the progression of lung adenocarcinoma, which does not support a linear progression schema.
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