Could a Blood Test Someday Diagnose Lung Cancer?

New research finds different blood chemicals in patients
Same Blood tubes

Doctors someday might diagnose lung cancer through a simple blood test – which would enable detection of the disease at an earlier stage and could result in more effective treatment. 

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Such a blood test could be the ultimate result of new research that found people with non-small cell lung cancer have different chemicals in their blood called metabolites than people who do not have the disease.

Metabolites help cells to grow and function. They are the result of metabolism, which is the buildup and breakdown of substances, such as food, within the body.

Cleveland Clinic pulmonologist Peter Mazzone, MD, MPH, led the team of researchers. Dr. Mazzone is Director of the Lung Cancer Program for Cleveland Clinic’s Respiratory Institute.

Different chemicals

The research team took blood samples from 284 people, 94 of whom had lung cancer. The rest of the participants matched the cancer patients in age, gender, smoking history, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diabetes, and blood lipids, but did not have lung cancer.

The results detected more than 500 different metabolites, with 149 that differed significantly between the people who had lung cancer and the people who did not. 

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“Our study results showed that patients with lung cancer have altered metabolic processes,” Dr. Mazzone says. “This information could lead to the development of a diagnostic biomarker for early detection of lung cancer.” 

Dr. Mazzone says researchers theorized they would find some differences between the two groups, but found the extent surprising.

 “I was expecting to find differences in metabolites in the blood of cancer patients,” he says. “However, the number of metabolite differences surprised me a bit.”

Further research is needed. But the knowledge that these different metabolites exist and can be identified through a blood test could lead to earlier lung cancer detection and better treatments, Dr. Mazzone says.

 “When we find lung cancer early in its course, it can be cured,” Dr. Mazzone says. “Not always, but often, it can be cured.”

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Hard to find

If detected early, lung cancer is curable. But a diagnosis of lung cancer often is not made until the disease is an advanced state and hard to cure. That is because usually symptoms of lung cancer do not appear until the cancer is in later stages.

Lung cancer symptoms mimic other medical conditions – some of them relatively minor – and many people may mistake them for other problems, such as an infection or long-term effects from smoking.

The study abstract recently appeared in an online supplement of the journal CHEST and was presented Oct. 29 at CHEST 2014, the annual meeting of the American College of Chest Physicians in Austin, Texas.

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