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Urine Test for Lung Cancer?

Researchers Developing Urine Test to Determine Smokers at Highest Risk for Lung Cancer
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

April 20, 2009 (Denver) -- Researchers are a step closer to developing a simple urine test to identify smokers at high risk of developing lung cancer.

Although the test is still years away, the hope is to spot high-risk people earlier, when there’s still time to prevent or treat the cancer, says Jian-Min Yuan, MD, associate professor of cancer epidemiology at the University of Minnesota.

Early identification will give doctors a chance to step up smoking cessation and screening efforts, he tells WebMD.

“It might motivate smokers who are having trouble quitting” to finally kick the habit, Yuan says.

If that fails, “We can at least have them come in for lung cancer screening every six months,” he says. That way, doctors can catch cancer earlier, when there’s a higher chance it can be treated successfully with surgery, radiation, and/or chemotherapy.

The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research.

Smoking Causes Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is the leading cancer killer, claiming the lives of more than 160,000 Americans last year, according to the American Cancer Society. 

Smoking tobacco is the major risk factor for lung cancer. In the United States, about 90% of lung cancer deaths in men and nearly 80% of lung cancer deaths in women are from smoking, according to the CDC. People who smoke are 10 to 20 times more likely to get lung cancer or die from lung cancer than people who do not smoke.

But not every smoker develops lung cancer, and there is no way to predict exactly who will develop the disease, says Peter G. Shields, MD, deputy director of the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center in Washington, D.C.

“We all know that the more you smoke, the higher your risk. But only about one in 10 heavy smokers gets lung cancer,” he tells WebMD.

“It’s really remarkable that we have tests for cholesterol and so on, but we don’t have a blood or urine test for smoking,” Shields says.

Developing a Urine Test

In an effort to develop such a test, Yuan and colleagues culled data from two large studies that began about 20 years ago. One, called the Shanghai Cohort Study, involved more than 18,000 men in Shanghai, China. The other, the Singapore Chinese Health Study, included 63,257 men and women of Chinese descent.

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