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Mucus Test Might Track Lung Cancer Risk

Screen needs fine-tuning, but shows promise, researchers say

FRIDAY, March 24, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- A new test using mucus from deep in the lungs of people at high risk for lung cancer could help pinpoint who's most likely to develop the disease.

As reported in the March 15 issue of Cancer Research, the test examines DNA in cells expelled in sputum for evidence of specific inactivated genes.

In a group of 98 high-risk people, the test correctly identified 65 percent who went on to develop lung cancer up to 18 months later.

However, it also tagged 35 percent of 92 percent of cancer-free people in a control group, suggesting that more work is needed to fine-tune the test.

"Our hope is that our continuing research will identify additional genes that will make a sputum test like this highly predictive," study senior author Steven Belinsky, director of the lung cancer program at the Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute in Albuquerque, N.M., said in a prepared statement.

The test has potential as a noninvasive and cost-effective lung cancer screening method that could lead to earlier treatment of the disease.

"Short of repeatedly X-raying a person's lungs to look for emerging tumors, there is no way to screen people at high risk for lung cancer, much less predict who will be diagnosed with the cancer at a later date," Belinsky said. "When perfected and validated, this kind of test holds great promise for identifying people with lung cancer early enough to successfully treat them."

Most people with lung cancer are diagnosed when the cancer is advanced, meaning they may not benefit from surgery, chemotherapy or radiation. Median survival time after lung cancer diagnosis is 13 months.

"But tumors that can be surgically removed are associated with a five-year survival rate of more than 60 percent," Belinsky said.

More information

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

SOURCE: American Association for Cancer Research, news release, March 15, 2006
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