According to an article recently published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care, a test that detects chromosomal (genetic) changes helps to identify patients who are at a high risk for developing lung cancer. These patients may ultimately benefit from close screening for lung cancer. However, further study is needed to confirm these findings and to assess if the test is a practical and cost-effective screening tool for high-risk patients.
Lung cancer remains the leading cause of cancer-related deaths. Once lung cancer spreads from its site of origin, long-term survival rates remain suboptimal; however, if detected in its earliest stages before any spread, cure rates remain high. Given these statistics, screening to detect lung cancer in its earliest stages is currently the best way to significantly improve overall survival rates.
Standard screening measures for lung cancer currently include chest X-rays among patients who are smokers or have a history of smoking. Unfortunately, by the time a chest X-ray detects lung cancer, the majority of cases have already grown to a stage that is considered incurable. Another early screening tool for lung cancer is a computed tomography (CT) scan, which can detect lung cancer in its earliest stages. Long-term survival results, however, are inconsistent for patients whose lung cancer was detected through the scans. Because of the limitations of available screening methods, researchers continue to evaluate novel ways to screen for lung cancer in order to improve early detection and ultimately long-term survival; it is also their goal to keep costs for these screening tests feasible.
Researchers from the University of Colorado recently conducted a clinical study to evaluate using chromosomal changes in tissue samples from patients’ airways as a way of detecting lung cancer. This study included tissue samples from 71 patients. Participants included 43 high-risk smokers; 14 who had been diagnosed with lung cancer (tissue samples were taking following surgical removal of the cancer); and 14 who had never smoked. The percentages of patients within each group with chromosomal abnormalities were as follows:
- 14% for never-smokers
- 82% for high-risk smokers
- 100% for lung cancer patients
The researchers concluded that this chromosomal test of airway tissues helped to predict which patients may be at a high risk of developing lung cancer. However, the feasibility of this test is still questionable, as sampling is an invasive and potentially expensive procedure. In addition, future studies are necessary to determine if tests such as these will help to improve survival for patients who develop lung cancer.
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Research continues to focus on improving the early detection of lung cancer, and although specific studies or tests may not provide all necessary information (such as feasibility in terms of cost), they can help guide researchers toward improved care for patients diagnosed with lung cancer.
Patients who are smokers or who have a strong family history of smoking may wish to speak with their physician regarding their individual risks and benefits of participating in a clinical trial for the early detection of lung cancer. Two sources of information regarding ongoing clinical trials include the National Cancer Institute (www.cancer.gov) and www.eCancerTrials.com.
Reference: Garcia-Varella M, Chen L, Powell R, et al. Spectral karyotyping detects chromosome damage in bronchial cells of smokers and patients with cancer. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. 2007;176:505-512.
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