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Lung Cancer in Adolescents: A Grim Inheritance?

Now, we are focused on using underlying biology in high-risk families to understand why lung cancer occurs in young, healthy patients who never smoked.
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Whether you're bemoaning the annoying cowlick that came from your father or flashing the perfect smile your mother passed along, what the mirror reminds all of us is that we're each the unique sum of our genetic parts.

And while we've always known that those traits indelibly link us to our ancestry, what we're only beginning to understand is how precisely genes might predict our futures, as well.

The idea of inheriting cancer from one's parents is not new, however it is often accredited only to the BRCA genes and breast cancer, despite growing evidence linking other inherited genetic properties and cancers. While much is still unknown about the relationship between inherited genetic traits and lung cancer, recent research increasingly suggests a connection between healthy, nonsmoking patients and gene mutations. Lung cancer patients get stigmatized and blamed for their condition, while some medical researchers turn a blind eye to factors other than smoking that could be linked to development of the disease.

Every patient should have access to the best care possible, and at the Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation, we are working to make lung cancer a chronically managed disease by 2023. In 2014 our sister foundation, the Addario Lung Cancer Medical Institute (ALCMI) launched the Genomics of Young Lung Cancer Study in order to address the seeming growing number of athletic, nonsmoking young adults being diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer, and to better understand what was causing the disease in these patients. That study's early findings proved the existence of highly targetable, and thus treatable, genetic mutations in younger (less than age 4) lung cancer patients. Now, we are focused on using underlying biology in high-risk families to understand why lung cancer occurs in young, healthy patients who never smoked.

When you see a group of college kids playing volleyball on the beach, or a roomful of parents at kindergarten graduation, you would never imagine that a year, or even just months, later, any of them might be dead from lung cancer. But the truth is, anyone can get this deadliest of cancers. And until everyone gets that message, our efforts to stop lung cancer in its tracks will suffer.

The Addario Lung Cancer Foundation created our Adolescent Young Adult Speaker Series to address this issue, and provide support and information for young adults with lung cancer and their loved ones. Through presentations by lung cancer patients, specialists, physicians and researchers, this unrestricted forum covers everything from recent research findings to treatment options, and offers a chance to share personal stories and get advice from others.

To me it is more than just a support group -- it is a family affair -- a place for those affected to reflect on personal challenges with lung cancer, and an opportunity to "bring HOPE home" to those still fighting the disease. And to have my daughter Andrea hosting the upcoming installment helps remind me that lung cancer truly is a family affair.

My experience taught me how isolating battling lung cancer can be, and how difficult it is to find a community of people who have this shared experience. I hope that our next installment of the Adolescent Young Adult Speaker Series can provide both information and support to young adults battling lung cancer, and raise awareness about the threat that the disease poses to everyone -- no matter what age.