Gene Properties in Sputum May Signal Increased Risk for Developing Lung Cancer

Gene Properties in Sputum May Signal Increased Risk for Developing Lung Cancer

According to a recent article published in Clinical Cancer Research, methylation, the chemical modification of a gene or multiple genes, identified in sputum may help identify individuals who are at a higher risk of developing lung cancer. Individuals at a higher risk may benefit from more intensive screening schedules.

Lung cancer remains the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the US. A partial explanation for the disease’s high mortality rates may be the lack of effective screening. At present, standard screening measures among individuals who are at a high risk of developing lung cancer (such as smokers) do not detect cancer early enough to improve cure rates. Research continues into developing screening measures that can detect lung cancer early enough so that treatment can improve overall survival.

A multi-institution clinical trial was recently conducted to evaluate methylation of certain genes in the sputum (saliva) and blood and possible associations with the risk of developing lung cancer. This study included 56 individuals who had been diagnosed with lung cancer, 121 individuals who were smokers but did not have lung cancer, and 74 individuals who were non-smokers. Methylation of specific genes (including O6-methylguanine-DNA methyltransferase, ras effector homologue 1, death associated protein kinase, PAX5alpha, and p16) had significant associations with risks of developing lung cancer:

  • Patients with lung cancer had over a 6-fold increased rate of methylation of three or more genes in the sputum than smokers with no cancer.
  • Patients with lung cancer had over a 3-fold increased rate of methylation of just one or more genes than non-smokers.

The researchers concluded that methylation of specific genes may indicate an increased risk of developing lung cancer. Patients with this high risk may benefit from more intense screening than their counterparts; this should increase the rate at which lung cancer is detected at its earliest and most treatable stages. Individuals who are smokers or who are at a high risk of developing lung cancer may wish to speak with their physician regarding the risks and benefits of participating in a clinical trial further evaluating potential screening markers. Two sources of information regarding ongoing clinical trials include the National Cancer Institute (www.cancer.gov) and www.cancerconsultants.com.

Reference: Belinsky S, Klinge D, Dekker J, et al. Gene Promoter Methylation in Plasma and Sputum Increases with Lung Cancer Risk. Clinical Cancer Research. 2005; 11, 6505-6511.

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