Blood Test Could Revolutionize Lung Cancer Detection – and Save Millions of Lives
By: Jean Johnson for Veins1
“I wish this research had been around when my aunt died,” said Barbara Langstrom of Billings, Montana. “It was so sad. They told her she’d last about a year, and they were right; she made it about another 10 months. I was with her the last time she went to see the oncologist. He checked her over and not much was said. It was very awkward and sad going to see your doctor and the message being, ‘sorry, there’s nothing to be done.’
“Of course, she smoked back in the days when everyone did,” said Langstrom. “I did too, for that matter. I quit a good 20 years ago, but I imagine there has been damage. So now that I’m getting up there, I hope they keep after this new research and get it to the point where it can help a new generation of elders. After all, the baby boomers are coming, and they sure did their share of smoking.”
|The American Lung Association underscores that in its early stages, lung cancer usually does not cause symptoms. When symptoms occur, the cancer is often advanced. Call your doctor if you notice any of the following symptoms:
Coughing up blood
Weight loss and loss of appetite
Shortness of breath
Fever without a known cause
Repeated bouts of bronchitis or pneumonia
New Blood Test
The new test Langstrom speaks of comes from Europe. Researchers in France have reported initial success with a blood test that screens for lung cancer. If further investigations validate effectiveness, it could move into the mainstream as a revolutionary new way to screen high-risk patients for the dreaded disease.
“While it’s not ready for prime time, the test would ideally be given to seemingly healthy people at high risk of lung cancer – for example, smokers aged 45 or older,” William Jacot, M.D., a cancer specialist at l’Hôpital Arnaud de Villeneuve in Montpellier, France, told WebMD. “You want to give it before symptoms develop, perhaps repeating it every six months or so.”
Jacot presented his results at the annual meeting of the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) where Dirk Schrijvers, M.D., a medical oncologist at Middelheim Hospital in Antwerp, Belgium and chairman of the ESMO’s publication working group was in attendance.
“One of the main problems with lung cancer is that we presently have no means for early detection,” Schrijvers says. “A blood test like this could overcome the problem.”
To arrive at his discovery, Jacot analyzed blood from 170 patients, 147 of whom had lung cancer and 23 of whom had another kind of chronic pulmonary disease. Using mass spectrometry, he identified two protein peaks that distinguished patients with malignant tumors with 87 percent accuracy.
While Jacot says that “the results are a promising improvement for screening,” he cautioned that further work is needed in larger trials. Still, the significance of Jacot’s presentation was not lost on Hans-Joachim Schmoll, M.D. of Martin Luther University in Halle-Wittenberg, Germany. “This approach is highly important, and if these peaks are validated in an independent set,” Schmoll commented, “it will have a tremendous effect on clinical procedures.”
Statistics and the Extent of the Problem
According to Jacot, almost three-fourths of the patients diagnosed with lung cancer are in such advanced stages that little can be done. Only 6 to 16 percent of these patients remain alive after five years. On the other hand, 70 percent of those patients whose cancer is detected early have survival rates of beyond five years.
The American Lung Association (ALA), expanding the discussion to include a variety of diseases that strike the lungs, reports that every year close to 342,000 Americans die of lung disease. It is the nation’s “number three killer, responsible for one in seven deaths. Lung disease is not only a killer; most lung disease is chronic.”
The ALA points out that 35 million Americans are now living with chronic lung disease and that in 2004, the latest year for which their statistics are available, 160,400 people died from lung cancer.
Overall rates of lung cancer in men in the United States do appear to be dropping, says the ALA, but women continue to experience increasing instances of the disease.
The ALA reiterates the problem: most lung cancer is found at advanced stages, at which point there is little that can be done to improve the outcome. Further, screening tests are not fool proof. False positive results as well as false negative readings can occur, considerably muddying the waters and potentially causing patients to go through procedures that, at the very least, can be unnerving.
Tune in for Part Two and learn more about lung cancer and a new CT scan for earlier detection...