"PWS is a paradigm shift, in that we don't need to examine the tumor itself to determine the presence of cancer," added Hariharan Subramanian, a research associate in Backman's lab who played a central role in the development of the technology.
After testing the technology in a small-scale trial, Roy and Backman focused the study on smokers, since smoking is the major risk factor related to 90 percent of lung cancer patients. "The basic idea is that smoking not only affects the lungs but the entire airway tract," Roy said.
The study was comprised of 135 participants including 63 smokers with lung cancer and control groups of 37 smokers with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), 13 smokers without COPD and 22 non-smokers. The research was not confounded by the participants' demographic factors such as amount of smoking, age or gender. Importantly, the test was equally sensitive to cancers of all stages, including early curable cancers.
The researchers swabbed the inside of patients' mouths, and then the cheek cells were applied to a slide, fixed in ethanol and optically scanned using PWS to measure the disorder strength of cell nanoarchitecture. Results were markedly elevated (greater than 50 percent) in patients with lung cancer compared to cancer-free smokers.
A further assessment of the performance characteristics of the "disorder strength" (as a biomarker) showed greater than 80 percent accuracy in discriminating cancer patients from individuals in the three control groups.
"The results are similar to other successful can
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