New research suggests a simple blood test could improve the early detection of lung cancer

February 12, 2019

New research led by scientists at the Medical Research Council (MRC) Toxicology Unit suggests that by analysing levels of DNA in the blood, the early detection of lung cancer could be improved.

The study, published in the journal Disease Models and Mechanisms, found that in preliminary tests using mice, a blood test could measure the circulating levels of DNA in the blood which cancer cells shed as they grow and multiply, and could even predict the presence of tumours in the lungs before they became cancerous.

Lung cancer is the number one cause of cancer-related death around the world, partly due to the difficulties in detecting the disease at an early stage. By the time lung cancer is diagnosed, it has often spread to other parts of the body making it much more difficult to treat, which is why improved diagnosis at an earlier stage is key to beating the disease.

The scientists at the MRC Toxicology Unit, part of the University of Cambridge, alongside scientists at the University of Leicester, used mice with a mutation in a gene called KRAS to model the pre-cancerous stages of lung cancer. The researchers took regular computed tomography (CT) scans to monitor the development of small pre-cancerous lung tumours in the mice. To determine whether circulating DNA could be used to detect the tumours before they became malignant, blood samples were taken along with the CT scans at different time intervals.

The team found that the mice developing cancerous lung tumours had higher levels of circulating DNA compared with healthy mice, and that the levels of DNA released by the cancerous tumours into the blood of the mice correlated with the size of the tumours seen on the CT scans. The circulating DNA was then analysed for the presence of the precise KRAS mutation that caused the tumours to develop. The researchers found that, significantly, in later stages of tumour development where tumours were still pre-cancerous, the KRAS mutation could still be detected in circulating DNA.

"This observation is exciting because it suggests that tumour-causing mutations may be detectable in circulating DNA from patients with early-stage cancers or with pre-cancerous tumours", says Dr Miguel Martins, a programme leader at the MRC Toxicology Unit and lead author of the study.

Regarding the importance of follow-up studies, he believes that "Similar studies should now be conducted using mice bearing pre-cancerous lesions in other tissues. This will give us a better idea of whether circulating DNA has potential use for early cancer detection in patients."

Dr Mariana Delfino-Machin, Programme Manager for Cancer at the MRC, which funded the research, added "This is a really promising piece of early-stage research. Lung cancer is incredibly difficult to diagnose at the stage where it can be successfully treated, leading to a poor rate of survival. Developing early detection strategies to improve survival rates is key, and if this can be achieved using only a blood sample it would greatly benefit patients and the NHS. We look forward to the results of the next stages of this research."
-end-


Medical Research Council

Related Lung Cancer Articles from Brightsurf:

State-level lung cancer screening rates not aligned with lung cancer burden in the US
A new study reports that state-level lung cancer screening rates were not aligned with lung cancer burden.

The lung microbiome may affect lung cancer pathogenesis and prognosis
Enrichment of the lungs with oral commensal microbes was associated with advanced stage disease, worse prognosis, and tumor progression in patients with lung cancer, according to results from a study published in Cancer Discovery, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

New analysis finds lung cancer screening reduces rates of lung cancer-specific death
Low-dose CT screening methods may prevent one death per 250 at-risk adults screened, according to a meta-analysis of eight randomized controlled clinical trials of lung cancer screening.

'Social smokers' face disproportionate risk of death from lung disease and lung cancer
'Social smokers' are more than twice as likely to die of lung disease and more than eight times as likely to die of lung cancer than non-smokers, according to research presented at the European Respiratory Society International Congress.

Lung cancer therapy may improve outcomes of metastatic brain cancer
A medication commonly used to treat non-small cell lung cancer that has spread, or metastasized, may have benefits for patients with metastatic brain cancers, suggests a new review and analysis led by researchers at St.

Cancer mortality continues steady decline, driven by progress against lung cancer
The cancer death rate declined by 29% from 1991 to 2017, including a 2.2% drop from 2016 to 2017, the largest single-year drop in cancer mortality ever reported.

Cancer-sniffing dogs 97% accurate in identifying lung cancer, according to study in JAOA
The next step will be to further fractionate the samples based on chemical and physical properties, presenting them back to the dogs until the specific biomarkers for each cancer are identified.

Lung transplant patients face elevated lung cancer risk
In an American Journal of Transplantation study, lung cancer risk was increased after lung transplantation, especially in the native (non-transplanted) lung of single lung transplant recipients.

Proposed cancer treatment may boost lung cancer stem cells, study warns
Epigenetic therapies -- targeting enzymes that alter what genes are turned on or off in a cell -- are of growing interest in the cancer field as a way of making a cancer less aggressive or less malignant.

Are you at risk for lung cancer?
This question isn't only for people who've smoked a lot.

Read More: Lung Cancer News and Lung Cancer Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.