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Our Lung Cancer Research

What does it take to outwit lung disease? Bold, brave research! Our investigators are involved in projects that cover all the bases, from studying how diseases work to developing real-world therapies.

Below, you’ll learn more about the research projects we are currently funding. Interested in applying for a research grant? Learn about our opportunities here.

Lung Cancer Research Projects


Dr. Geneviève Digby

Characterizing and Overcoming Barriers to Access of Specialty Care for Patients with Lung Cancer in Southeastern Ontario

Amount: $15,000

Lung cancer kills more Canadians than any other type of cancer. In Canada, lung cancer accounts for about 14% of all diagnosed cancers, with non-small cell lung cancer being the most common type. In the Southeastern (SE) Ontario Region, patients with lung cancer do not live as long as patients with lung cancer in other regions of Ontario. While there are many reasons for this, it is thought that delays in lung cancer diagnosis and treatment likely play a role. In SE Ontario, the Lung Diagnostic Assessment Program (LDAP) is a clinic that helps manage the care of patients with suspected lung cancer, by organizing tests and working with cancer specialists that treat lung cancer. This clinic model has been shown to provide consistent care and reduce patient anxiety. However, over 30% of patients with a new lung cancer diagnosis in SE Ontario are never seen in the LDAP, and an unknown number of patients with lung cancer are never referred for specialist care.

We think that there is inconsistency in the care of patients with lung cancer in the SE region and that there are many barriers to timely, organized care. We believe that one of these barriers is timely access to specialist who diagnose and treat lung cancer. Our project aims to find out what the reasons are for inconsistency in lung cancer care, find ways to remove barriers to seeing lung cancer specialists, and improve the care for all patients with suspected lung cancer in the SE region.

We plan to work with researchers in the Cancer Care and Epidemiology research unit at Queen’s University to collect data of patients diagnosed with lung cancer in the SE region in the last 2 years. We will use their database to collect data about the patients and their lung cancer care to find reasons why some patients might have faster care and live longer than other patients. We will also collect data from the LDAP database, link this with regional data and determine whether being managed in the LDAP has an effect on timeliness of care and life expectancy. This will help us find areas that can be improved to make care more consistent in across our region.

This project is unique because it is the first to look at the reasons why some lung cancer patients in the SE region receive faster care and/or live longer than other patients. It is also the first project to look at how timely access to doctors that diagnose and treat lung cancer impacts patient care and outcomes. It is also unique in how it will use the data to develop improvement projects that will help make care better for patients in the SE Region and hopefully what is learned from this project can be spread to other areas of Ontario as well.

Lung cancer affects a lot of people in Ontario, more than any other cancer type. Our project will help figure out barriers to patients getting the best possible lung cancer care. This will help us make changes to the healthcare system that will make it more likely that patients with lung cancer get the right care, at the right time, by the right specialists. This will help patients with lung cancer in Ontario live longer and feel better about their care.

Dr. Natasha Leighl

Accelerating Lung Cancer Diagnosis through Liquid Biopsies

Amount: $40,000

Lung cancer is more common than breast, prostate or colorectal cancers, and kills more people in Canada that those cancers combined. Lung cancer affects men and women equally. Treatment for lung cancer depends on the type and stage of cancer. The sooner a person with lung cancer gets the right treatment, the better off they do. Advanced cancer means that the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.


Cancer doctors now need to know what kinds of mutations (changes) there are in the genes of the cancer tumour to say what type of cancer a person has. In general, genes are forms of DNA that are passed along as cells multiply; the genes tell the cells how to grow and function. Patients with certain mutations found in their cancer may be able to be treated with a drug for their specific type of cancer.

The usual way that a doctor finds out if there is a mutation it to take a little piece of the tumour (called a tissue biopsy) and test it. A tissue biopsy can take a long time to get, costs a lot of money, and is painful for a patient. Many lung cancer patients are also too sick to have a tissue biopsy.

This study is looking at whether a new type of biopsy, called a liquid biopsy, can find the lung cancer mutations faster than tissue biopsy. A liquid biopsy is a blood test to look for cancer cells or bits of cancer DNA in the blood. A blood sample is easier to get than a tissue sample and this test may be faster. Knowing what mutations the cancer has could help doctors get an advanced lung cancer patient on the right treatment faster.

This study will evaluate if using a liquid biopsy will get advanced lung cancer patients who have an actionable mutation on treatment faster than the usual route. An actionable mutation means there is a drug available to treat the cancer.

Doctors will assess patients that are sent to the Princess Margaret Lung Cancer Rapid Assessment & Management Program to see if they meet the criteria to be part of the study. Patients who meet the criteria and seem to have advanced lung cancer will be asked if they want to take part in the study. If a person agrees to take part, they will have a blood sample taken. The blood sample will be sent to a lab at Princess Margaret. The lab will test the sample for mutations in their cancer genes. The results will be sent to the study doctor. If an actionable mutation is found, the patient will be sent to a medical oncologist right away for treatment. We will compare the time it takes for patients in the study to get the right treatment to patients who have the usual tissue biopsy tests.

A liquid biopsy is a new way of checking a cancer to see what type of cancer a patient has. Using a liquid biopsy sooner in a patient’s cancer journey may help patients who have advanced lung cancer get on treatment faster. This is important because the sooner a patient gets on the right treatment, the better they do.

The Canadian Cancer Society estimates there will be over 10,000 new diagnoses of lung cancer in Ontario in 2019. Lung cancer affects men and women equally and causes more deaths than prostate, breast or colorectal cancers combined. Unfortunately, many patients, over 40% in Ontario, already have advanced lung cancer when they are diagnosed. The faster these patients get on treatment, the better they do. They will live longer and have a better quality of life.