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Gene 'Signature' May Point to Lung Cancer

Discovery could aid in development of simple screening test, expert says

TUESDAY, Dec. 1 (HealthDay News) -- In a finding that could lead to a simple blood test to screen for lung cancer, U.S. researchers have identified immune system markers that indicate early-stage lung tumors in people at high risk for lung cancer.

The researchers examined gene expression profiles in blood samples from 137 people with non-small cell lung cancer and a control group of 91 people with non-malignant lung diseases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema or benign lung nodules.

They identified a 29-gene "signature" that was 86 percent accurate in identifying those with lung cancer, who had certain genetic changes in immune cells that the others did not.

Blood samples were taken from 18 of those with lung cancer before surgery to remove their tumors and two to five months after surgery. After surgery, 13 of them showed a decrease or disappearance of the tumor gene signature.

The study was published online Dec. 1 in Cancer Research.

The researchers said it might be possible to use the findings to develop a simple blood test to screen for lung cancer.

"People routinely get blood taken at their doctors' offices for cholesterol levels, diabetes and other standard tests, so why not utilize this method to screen for other conditions such as the risk of developing lung cancer?" Louise C. Showe, a professor in the molecular and cellular oncology and immunology programs and director of the genomics facility at the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia, said in a news release from the institute.

"Such a test could be especially useful for remote areas where, typically, technologies that are used in urban centers are not available," she said. "In addition, this test could be useful in a clinical setting to help to decide whether a small tumor detected on an X-ray is likely to be malignant."

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about lung cancer screening.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Wistar Institute, news release, Dec. 1, 2009

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