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New Lung Cancer Test Targets Cheek Cells

Goal Is to Identify Lung Cancer Early, When It May Be More Treatable
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WebMD Health News

Oct. 31, 2005 -- A new lung cancer test could help detect the disease in its early stages, scientists from Canada report.

That could save lives, since early lung cancer may be easier to treat than advanced lung cancer.

The test checks cells from the inside of the cheek for abnormal changes in the nucleus, which is the command center of a cell.

The test isn't ready for use yet. More studies are needed first. If the test succeeds in those studies, it might become a new tool for detecting early lung cancer, say the test's developers.

They are Roger Kemp, PhD, and Bojana Turic, MD. They work at Perceptronix Medical Inc. in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Their study was presented in Montreal at Chest 2005, the American College of Chest Physicians' 71st annual international scientific assembly.

Goal: Early Detection

Lung cancer is the No. 1 cause of cancer death for U.S. men and women.

Early lung cancer is considered treatable, but most lung cancers are found later on, Turic notes in a news release.

"We believe that early detection is the key to reducing lung cancer [deaths] and have focused our approach around detecting stage 1 lung cancer," he says.

One day, the test may be used in doctors' or dentists' offices, says Turic. The test would likely be used to screen people at high risk for lung cancer -- not the general public.

How It Works

Changes in cells inside the mouth may signal the presence of cancer in other parts of the body. "We believe this effect extends to the lungs," write Kemp and Turic in their report.

A small wooden spatula could be used to gather enough cheek cells by scraping the inside of the cheek, says Turic. "The procedure is simple enough that specimen collection could be done by patients themselves," he says.

The researchers developed a high-tech system called Automated Quantitative Cytometry, which checks for subtle changes in the center of a cell -- called the nucleus -- which controls its function and contains its genetic material.

The result is a score that predicts the likelihood of cancer's presence. Medical personnel don't have to manually check the cells, the researchers note.

Study's Results

Kemp and Turic tried the test on 1,140 people. The group included 150 people with confirmed lung cancer, roughly a third of whom had early (stage 1) lung cancer.

The other 990 participants were at high risk for lung cancer but were not known to have the disease.

The goal was to see if the test could correctly identify who had lung cancer and who didn't.

Overall it was accurate at detecting 70% of cases of cancers when these cells existed in the specimens.

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