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Immune Cells Predict Lung Cancer Recurrence

The fewer T-cell lymphocytes present in tumors, the greater likelihood of disease's return

TUESDAY, Dec. 19, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Patients who've had surgery for early-stage lung cancer are more likely to suffer cancer recurrence if their tumors contain a large number of immune-suppressing T-regulatory cells, a Duke University Medical Center study finds.

T-regulatory cells reduce the action of immune system T-cell lymphocytes that fight cancer. The more T-regulatory cells, the fewer T-cell lymphocytes there are in the tumors of lung cancer patients.

This study of 64 patients found that 50 percent of those with the highest proportion of T-regulatory cells in relation to T-cell lymphocytes suffered recurrence, while patients without any T-regulatory cells did not have recurrence. The findings are published in the current issue of the journal Cancer.

"If further studies prove successful, it may be possible to measure the levels of T-regulatory cells in a lung cancer tumor as a marker to help predict which patients require additional chemotherapy following surgery to help prevent their cancer from recurring," senior investigator Dr. Ned Patz, professor of radiology, pharmacology and cancer biology, said in a prepared statement.

Currently, there is no method to predict cancer recurrence in early-stage lung cancer patients who've had surgery to remove their tumors. Typically, these patients don't receive chemotherapy after surgery because they're considered to be at low risk for recurrence. However, nearly 50 percent of these patients will suffer cancer recurrence, Patz said.

"This finding indicates that it is important to analyze the biology of the tumor cells as well as the tumor's relationship with the immune system. Testing newly diagnosed lung cancer patients for their levels of T-regulatory cells may serve as one important marker for their eventual risk of recurrence," Patz said.

More information

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

SOURCE: Duke University Medical Center, news release, Dec. 12, 2006
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