Lung cancer is a major killer
Scientists have pinpointed a gene which protects against lung cancer.
It is hoped the discovery of the role of the tumour suppressor gene - LIMD1 - may lead to new treatments and techniques to pick up disease earlier.
Lung cancer is the UK's biggest cancer killer, claiming around 33,600 lives a year, partly because it often only detected at a late stage.
The University of Nottingham study appears in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The researchers compared lung cancer tissue with healthy lung tissue.
They found that the LIMD1 gene was missing in the majority of lung cancer samples, indicating that it might help to protect the body against the disease.
In a follow up experiment mice bred to lack the gene developed cancer.
Lead researcher Dr Tyson Sharp said: "The LIMD1 gene studied in this research is located on part of chromosome 3, called 3p21.
"Chromosome 3p21 is often deleted very early on in the development of lung cancer due to the toxic chemicals in cigarettes, which implies that inactivation of LIMD1 could be a particularly important event in early stages of lung cancer development."
It is estimated that nine out of ten cases of lung cancer are caused by smoking.
Because the disease is often not picked up until it has reached an advanced stage 80% of patients die within a year of being diagnosed.
Dame Helena Shovelton, Chief Executive of the British Lung Foundation said: "This is very exciting research which could lead to the development of early screening techniques and treatments for lung cancer."
Ed Yong, of the charity Cancer Research UK, said: "This study fills in another piece of the lung cancer puzzle.
"Now we know that LIMD1 is one of an elite group of genes that defend our cells against changes that could lead to cancer.
"Without its protection, cells become more vulnerable to cancer-causing chemicals, such as those found in cigarette smoke."