Blood test could identify lung cancer patients at earliest stage

Scientists have made a significant step forward in developing a blood test that could detect cancer patients – including lung cancer – before symptoms appear.

Blood test to detect lung cancer
Scientists are working to devise a blood test which could detect cancer

The team from John Hopkins University has piloted a test which has shown to identify eight common forms of cancer. Ovarian cancer was the easiest to detect, followed by liver, stomach, pancreas, oesophageal, colorectal then finally lung and breast cancer.

Nickolas Papadopoulous is the professor of oncology at Johns Hopkins University and senior author on the paper:

“The use of a combination of selected biomarkers for early detection has the potential to change the way we screen for cancer, and it is based on the same rationale for using combinations of drugs to treat cancer.”

Early detection saves lives

Detecting cancer at its earliest stage massively increases a patient’s chance of survival. For lung cancer, individuals with early stage disease have up a 73% chance of surviving for five years or more.

"We are really encouraged by these latest results. However, we know first-hand that lung cancer is highly complex and are not surprised that, out of the eight cancers this test has shown to identify, lung cancer is one of the more difficult. A number of our researchers are working on developing a blood test and, as with everything we do, our focus is solely on lung cancer."
Paula Chadwick, CEO, Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation

Lung cancer survival rates have continued to lag behind many other cancers. This is largely due to the fact symptoms often only surface once the cancer is at an advanced stage, resulting in the majority of people diagnosed at an incurable stage. Over a third of lung cancer cases are diagnosed at Accident and Emergency (A&E).

Paula Chadwick, CEO for Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, comments:

“Early diagnosis is the closest thing lung cancer has to a silver bullet. As the only UK lung cancer charity, early detection is our main priority because we know the significant impact it could have on people’s lives.

“We are really encouraged by these latest results. However, we know first-hand that lung cancer is highly complex and are not surprised that, out of the eight cancers this test has shown to identify, lung cancer is one of the more difficult.

“A number of our researchers are working on developing a blood test and, as with everything we do, our focus is solely on lung cancer. One project, coming out of the University for Liverpool, is showing much promise.”

Early detection of lung cancer

Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation funds lung cancer research projects around the UK. One project has produced evidence to suggest that lung cancer can be detected in the blood of patients, utilising RNA – tiny chains of nucleic acid – which is enclosed in tiny vesicles. These vesicles can be released be tumour cells themselves or by interacting body cells.

Dr Lakis Liloglou, lung cancer researcher
Dr Lakis Liloglou is working on a blood test which could detect lung cancer specifically

Dr Lakis Liloglou is the lead researcher on the project. He, alongside colleague Dr Amelia Acha-Sagredo presented their findings in the recent UK Extracellular Vesicle Forum at the University of Birmingham. Dr Liloglou comments:

“We are extremely hopeful that this technology will allow us to develop a test to enable diagnosing asymptomatic lung cancer patients and therefore significantly reduce mortality by allowing early treatment”.

The pilot study yielded such promising results that Dr Liloglou was awarded additional funding from Roy Castle Lung cancer Foundation to continue this research and develop a diagnostic assay.

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