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Blood Test for Lung Cancer in the Works

Test in Development Could Spare Patients Invasive Procedures, Researchers Say
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

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Jan. 13, 2010 (Coronado, Calif.) -- A blood test under study to help diagnose lung cancer looks promising, researchers reported Tuesday at a cancer meeting in California.

If perfected, the test could help spare patients the need to undergo invasive procedures such as biopsies when lung cancer is suspected, they predict.

''Currently, 20% to 25% of surgeries done for suspected lung cancer turn out to be benign diagnoses," says Steven Dubinett, MD, professor of medicine and pathology and director of the Lung Cancer Research Program at the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center at the David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles. He is the senior author on the study, presented at the American Association for Cancer Research-International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer's joint conference in Coronado, Calif.

About 219,000 new cases of lung cancer were expected to be diagnosed in the U.S. in 2009, according to the American Cancer Society, and about 159,000 deaths were expected.

According to Dubinett, about one in 500 chest X-rays shows a lung nodule of ''indeterminant significance." When that occurs, the next step is to examine the suspicious area, with the physician ordering a biopsy or inserting a scope into the lungs to evaluate further.

Lung Cancer Blood Test: Study Details

Building on their own previous research and that of others, Dubinett and his colleagues assembled a panel of 40 potential lung cancer biomarkers -- substances found in the blood that can be measured and detected with blood tests.

These biomarkers, Dubinett says, are made up of proteins thought to contribute to lung cancer progression or whose levels may be changed as a result of the tumor. The thinking among experts studying these biomarkers is that they will be present in the blood of people who are in the very early stages of lung cancer.

The researchers took blood from 90 lung cancer patients and from 56 people at high risk for lung cancer because of a heavy smoking history who had quit for at least a year.

They found that 33 of the 40 biomarkers were different between the lung cancer patients and those not diagnosed with lung cancer. They found that the panel of biomarkers was accurate in identifying lung cancer patients 88% of the time. It also correctly identified patients who did not have lung cancer 79% of the time.

Then they evaluated whether the markers could help detect lung cancer in early stages -- a challenge overall in the diagnosis of lung cancer. They compared blood samples from 31 patients with stage I lung cancer to the patients not diagnosed. There were 21 markers different enough between stage I cancer patients and non-cancer patients to suggest the method is sensitive enough to detect tumors in early stages.

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