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Lung Cancer

Lung tumors arise from tissues lining the lung and bronchial passages. While cigarette smoking is best known as a cause of lung cancer, the disease can also arise in people who have never smoked. Cases of lung cancer have declined over the last few decades. However, the disease remains the most common cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S.

There are two main types of lung cancer, small-cell lung cancer and non-small-cell lung cancer. Non-small-cell lung cancers are most common, making up about 85 percent of cases. Squamous cell carcinoma, adenocarcinoma and large-cell carcinoma are all varieties of non-small-cell lung cancer. Small-cell lung cancer, the more aggressive type, makes up about 15 percent of lung cancer cases. About 5 percent of lung tumors are lung carcinoid tumors, a rare and usually slow-growing form of the disease.

Our scientists study the genetic alterations that drive lung cancer development and the factors that shape lung cancer risk. They also study how the constellation of noncancerous cells surrounding the tumor may influence its progression. Our researchers seek to develop improved therapies for this disease and run clinical trials aimed at improving treatment. 

A lung cancer tissue scan.
A lung cancer tissue scan. Fred Hutch

Lung Cancer Research

Lung cancer research at Fred Hutch spans fundamental studies of the gene changes that drive the disease and large-scale population studies that seek to understand why it develops in some people but not others.

New Drug Targets


Understanding the inner workings of cancer cells can help researchers discover new drug targets. Our scientists work to pinpoint the critical genetic changes that promote lung cancer and translate these insights into targeted therapies for patients’ individual tumors.



Cancer cells are surrounded by noncancerous cells. Many of these can influence tumor cells’ growth, invasiveness and ability to metastasize, or leave the original tumor and initiate new tumors elsewhere. Our investigators study these nontumor cells and how they interact with lung tumor cells. In particular, Our scientists focus on cells from the immune system. Insights from these studies could point to new therapeutic targets or ways to harness the immune system itself to target lung cancer. Our scientists also carry out clinical trials of immunotherapy strategies against lung cancer.

Lung Cancer Risk


Though smoking is perhaps the most well-known risk factor for lung cancer, not everyone who smokes will develop lung cancer. And people who have never smoked make up a growing percentage of those diagnosed with lung cancer. Our scientists study the differences in lung tumors in these two populations to seek unique drug targets in each type of tumor. We also perform large-scale population-based studies to better understand why smoking predisposes only some people to lung cancer. Such studies could improve our understanding of who is most at risk of lung cancer and help doctors improve screening strategies.

Current Projects

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Carotene and Retinol Efficacy Trial (CARET)

Public Health Sciences, Cancer Prevention

Researchers tested the efficacy and safety of beta-carotene and retinyl palmitate in people at high risk for lung cancer in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Active follow-up of trial. participants ended on June of 2005; however, the program continues to support the extensive biological repository and ancillary studies that use CARET samples and data.

Funding Agency: National Cancer Institute

Contact: Jackie Dahlgren,

Coordinating Center for the Population-based Research to Optimize the Screening PRocess (PROSPR) Consortium

Public Health Sciences, Epidemiology

Building on the success of PROSPR I, PROSPR II investigators from a variety of disciplines and institutions are conducting research to improve the screening of cervical, colorectal, and lung cancers.

Funding Agency: National Cancer Institute

Contact: Marty Stiller,

Infrastructure Support and Pilot Tissue Collection for the CARET Biorepository

Public Health Sciences, Epidemiology

Researchers are collecting plasma and DNA samples from participants that are high risk for lung cancer. This 20 year collection includes the following information: demographic, lifestyle, nutrition, cancer incidence, survival, and cause of death. This specimen bank enables research on molecular, genetic, and nutritional epidemiology, early detection, diagnosis, and prognosis of the common cancers in both men and women.

Funding Agency: National Cancer Institute

Contact: Chu Chen,

Integrative Analysis of Lung Cancer Etiology and Risk – Biomarkers of Lung Cancer Risk (LC3-II)

Public Health Sciences, Epidemiology

In an effort to evaluate, identify, predict biomarkers of lung cancer risk, scientists will bring together data from ongoing biomarker studies and conducting de novo laboratory analyses of a comprehensive panel of promising risk biomarkers within the Lung Cancer Cohort Consortium (LC3).

Funding Agency: National Cancer Institute

Contact: Chu Chen,

Molecular Epidemiology of Lung Cancer

Public Health Sciences, Epidemiology

Scientists are analyzing the relationship between a body’s ability to repair of smoking-induced DNA damage and the occurrences of lung cancer.

Funding Agency: National Cancer Institute

Contact: Chu Chen,

The Air Study

Epidemiology, Public Health Sciences

Fred Hutch is recruiting individuals to participate in a study to learn about how to reduce personal exposure to air pollution, a known risk factor for lung cancer. We hope to use the information that we gather to develop larger studies to increase knowledge and awareness of the harmful health effects of air pollution. Below you will find the eligibility survey. If you pass the survey, you will have the option of being contacted by the researchers who are running this study to discuss if you wish to enroll.

Contact: The Air Study,

Vitamins and Lifestyle (VITAL) Study

  • Emily White, Ph.D.
Public Health Sciences, Cancer Prevention

The VITAL study investigates the associations of supplement use with cancer risk. Investigators are specifically concerned with how vitamin C, E, calcium, multivitamins, folate, omega-3 fatty acids, and fiber related to prostate, breast, lung, colorectal, melanoma, bladder, blood/lymph cancers, as well as total cancer incidence and total mortality.

Funding Agency: National Institutes of Health

Contact: Emily White,

New Drug Targets

Immunotherapies and the Immune System

Lung Cancer Risk

New Drug Targets

Understanding the inner workings of cancer cells, and how they’ve gone off track, can help researchers discover new drug targets. Hutch scientists work to pinpoint the critical genetic changes that promote lung cancer. They discover how these insights may be translated into targeted therapies for patients’ individual tumors.

Finding a Cure for Lung Cancer

Fred Hutch's Lung Specialized Project of Research Excellence (SPORE) is leveraging the strengths of  investigators to fast-track the latest breakthroughs for patients and people at risk of developing lung cancer.

Selected Lung Cancer Clinical Trials

Clinical research is an essential part of the scientific process that leads to new treatments and better care. Clinical trials can also be a way for patients to get early access to new cutting-edge therapies. Our clinical research teams are running clinical studies various kinds of lung cancers.

See all Lung Cancer Clinical Trials

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center campus.

Our Lung Cancer Researchers

Our interdisciplinary scientists and clinicians work together to prevent, diagnose and treat lung cancer as well as other cancers and diseases.

Seattle Cancer Care Alliance building.

Patient Treatment & Care

Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, our clinical care partner, gives patients access to the comprehensive, world-class treatments developed at Fred Hutch.


A Patient’s Story

Janet Freeman-Daily

The Lung Cancer Blame Game

Lung cancer can be caused by a number of factors, including smoking, genetic mutations and exposure to environmental carcinogens. But many people perceive it to be a self-inflicted disease, and the resulting social stigma can lead to delayed diagnosis as well as a dearth of funding for lung cancer research. Patients with lung cancer describe the reactions to their diagnosis.

Latest Lung Cancer News

Science Says: Cracking the code in solid tumors How scientists are developing targeted new therapies for cancers of the breast, lung, stomach and more October 13, 2021
Seeking to expand targeted therapy for lung cancer NIH MERIT Award will support Dr. Alice Berger’s efforts to target lung cancer-associated gene mutation August 9, 2021
Cancer-busting broccoli sprout pills? It’s a thing. Translational scientist’s ‘green chemoprevention’ research extends from eastern China to Seattle and now, into space July 19, 2021