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Cells in mucus from lungs of high-risk patients can predict tumor development

In a group of high-risk patients, a test that examined DNA from cells expelled in sputum for evidence of "silenced" genes correctly identified the majority of patients who were later diagnosed with lung cancer, say researchers in a study published in the March 15 issue of Cancer Research.

As such, the sputum test potentially represents a unique, non-invasive, and cost-effective screening method that could lead to earlier treatment of lung cancer.

"Short of repeatedly X-raying a person's lungs to look for emerging tumors, there is no way now to screen people at high risk for lung cancer, much less predict who will be diagnosed with the cancer at a later date," said the study's senior author, Steven Belinsky, Ph.D., director of the Lung Cancer Program at the Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute in Albuquerque, N.M.

"When perfected and validated, this kind of test holds great promise for identifying people with lung cancer early enough to successfully treat them," he said.

The test was able to predict which patients would develop lung cancer up to 18 months later. Catching lung tumors within that short timeframe can change a patient's outcome, Belinsky said, because these cells often proliferate rapidly after a long slow-growth period.

"Because most people are diagnosed when their cancer is advanced, they may not benefit from surgery, chemotherapy or radiation, which is why median survival from diagnosis is only 13 months," he said. "But lung tumors that can be surgically removed are associated with a five year survival rate of more than 60 percent."

The researchers are now working to perfect the test because it is not yet accurate enough for the clinic. It identified 65 percent of individuals who later developed symptoms of lung cancer, but also tagged 35 percent of cancer-free control participants.

"Our hope is that our continuing research will identify additional genes that will make a sputum test like this
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Contact: Russell Vanderboom, Ph.D.
vanderboom@aacr.org
215-440-9300
American Association for Cancer Research
15-Mar-2006


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