Changing the narrative of lung cancer to improve prevention for non-smokers

A team led by Dr Robin Urquhart is examining the effects of environmental exposures in non-smokers to help detect lung cancer earlier and save lives. 

Lung cancer is most often linked to smoking. But due to exposure to cancer-causing substances such as arsenic, radon gas and air pollution, lung cancer can also occur in people who have never smoked. Yet, in several provinces in Canada where screening programs are being implemented for people at high-risk of lung cancer, only a person’s age and smoking history are currently considered in the risk assessment. 

With funding from the Canadian Cancer Society, this research team is working to make sure environmental factors are considered when assessing a person’s risk of lung cancer. Using state-of-the-art infrastructure and employing expertise and patient experience from across Canada, the team aims to identify biological markers of risk related to arsenic, radon and air pollution and develop a monitoring system for air pollution (specifically tiny particles called PM2.5) to better understand how it affects our cells and elevates cancer risk. They will also explore how best to communicate and raise awareness about these risks and influence lung cancer screening programs.  

The results of this research will provide actionable information around environmental exposures to improve personalized lung cancer risk assessment, inform screening criteria and programs and improve lung cancer early detection efforts across Canada. 

Total Amount Awarded over 5 years: $ 5,197,879.98

Team Members

Principal Investigator
  • Robin Urquhart, Dalhousie University
Co-Principal Investigators
  • Maria Aristizabal, Queen's University
  • Graham Dellaire, Dalhousie University
  • Trevor Dummer, University of British Columbia
  • Aaron Goodarzi, University of Calgary
  • Geoffrey Maksym, Dalhousie University
  • Victor Martinez, Dalhousie University
  • Alison Wallace, Dalhousie University
  • Jeanette Boudreau, Dalhousie University
  • Brent Johnston, Dalhousie University
  • Stephen Lam, University of British Columbia
  • Wan Lam, University of British Columbia
  • Daria Manos, Dalhousie University
  • J Patrick Murphy, University of Prince Edward Island
  • Nathalie Saint-Jacques, Dalhousie University
  • Stephanie Snow, Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre (NS)
  • Zhaolin Xu, Dalhousie University 
Patients, Survivors and Caregivers
  • Heather Hogan
  • Jennifer Roy
  • Stephen Sollows
Knowledge Users
  • Helmut Hollenhorst, Nova Scotia Health
  • Krista Rigby, Nova Scotia Health
Additional Authors
  • Cynthia Kendell, Dalhousie University
  • Jong Sung Kim, University of Iowa
  • James Harynuk, University of Alberta
  • Gerald Johnston, Beatrice Hunter Cancer Research Institute
  • Erika Nicholson, Canadian Partnership Against Cancer

Team Geography

Team members from 6 provinces, as well as one US state (Iowa)