One reason why lung cancer is one of the deadliest forms of cancer in the United States is that it is so difficult to detect at its earliest stages, when treatment is most effective. Unlike breast or skin cancer, there are no telltale lumps or spots to provide physicians an early sign in at-risk patients. Likewise, there are no routine diagnostic procedures, such as mammograms or
colonoscopies, that can reliably spot cancer in the lungs.
But what if a simple blood test – no more invasive than having your cholesterol or blood sugar levels checked – could do the trick?
That’s a possibility that has energized a team of researchers led by Louise C. Showe, Ph.D., and Michael K. Showe, Ph.D., of Wistar. They examined blood samples from more than 200 patients and identified a common genetic “signature” left by non-small cell lung cancers, which account for 75 percent of lung tumors.
According to their findings, immune cells in the blood of patients with malignant lung cancer showed signs of being activated by the tumor, a signature pattern of genes that may also signify the early onset of lung cancer in people not yet diagnosed with the disease. Physicians may one day be able to look for these signatures, in the form of a simple lab test, to detect new or recurring lung cancer, as well as track the effectiveness of cancer therapies in individual patients.
With their collaborators at the University of Pennsylvania and New York University, scientists at
Wistar could make lung cancer screening as routine as your annual check-up.