A blood test for cancer?

    Lung cancer causes the most deaths among cancers and it’s often detected only in later stages. But unlike breast, prostate or cervical cancers, there’s no routine screening technique. Local researchers are working on it.

    Lung cancer claims more lives than any other cancer — but there’s no routine way to screen for it and catch it before it turns deadly. Local researchers are developing a blood test that could provide early detection of lung cancer.
    (Photo: Chest x-ray showing possible lung cancer / National Cancer Institute)



    Lung cancers are often found by accident or after symptoms have already progressed.

    Louise Showe at the Wistar Institute and her colleagues noticed that cancers can stamp a genetic imprint on immune cells circulating in the blood.

    So the idea was to develop a test that could identify that imprint before the cancer got out of control. They took blood samples from 200 high-risk people, and were able to find cancers with 86 percent accuracy.

    The findings were published in the latest issue of Cancer Research; Showe says the study is only preliminary.

    Showe: But our results are very encouraging and they are accuracies which are equivalent to what people are getting with samples of the tumors themselves. So I think that it’s been rewarding to see that actually this is a possible approach for detection of lung cancer.

    George Simon is the director of thoracic oncology at Fox Chase Cancer Center, and he was not involved in this research. He says the test seems intriguing, but needs work.

    Simon: The issues with this is, it is a blood test, but its techniques are actually fairly complex. And the complexity of the technique may make wide applicability difficult.

    The technique used to test the blood may be too complex for a doctor’s office. Showe’s working on simplifying the screen, and testing it on a larger sample of people.
    Other researchers are trying alternative methods of detecting cancer, such as cheek swabs and spit samples.

    Currently, there are no routine screening recommendations for lung cancer.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal