Blood test for lung cancer

December 5, 2008 9:00:33 PM PST
More people die from lung cancer than from breast cancer, prostate cancer and colon cancer combined. Most of the time lung cancer is caught late, making it difficult to treat. But some Philadelphia doctors are trying to change that with a simple blood test. A husband and wife team, doctors Louise and Michael Showe of the Wistar Institute, have spent years mapping the genes of people with and without lung cancer. Now they're developing a blood test to spot lung cancer early.

"This would be something that would be easy to implement as part of a regular doctor's visit," Dr. Louise Showe said.

So far, the results are promising. Their test has been 91-percent accurate in finding tumors in stage one- before they spread. The hope is the blood test could be used to monitor people at high-risk for lung cancer, such as ex-smoker Sandra Hill. She's was recently diagnosed with lung cancer.

"I was petrified, you know the tears kept coming," she said.

Like so many other patients, Hill's cancer was found by accident. She got in car wreck and doctors suspected she had broken ribs. Instead she said doctors founds stage three lung cancer.

It's too late for Hill to have surgery which would give her the best chances for survival. But she's now undergoing chemotherapy and radiation and her family is hoping for the best.

It was a similar story for Dr. Michael Showe's father. He was also a smoker and also got lung cancer. "I think he died within a month of being diagnosed," he said.

That's what keeps these doctors working hard. They've studied the genes of 200 people. That's 8-million genes! They've even been able to distinguish between different kinds of cancers and because of that they said the results of their research could stretch much further than lung cancer. "That encourages me to think that we will also be able to find separate panels which will be able to distinguish breast cancer, or pancreatic cancer, or ovarian cancer," Dr. Michael Showe said.

Hill is still fighting and was told by doctors her tumor is shrinking. But hopes someday the Showes' blood test will work and patients in the future won't have to go through what she's going through. But for now, she warns young people about the dangers of smoking.

"Please stop, it just doesn't make sense," she said.

The Showe's say their test could be on the market within a few years. And the same technology can also be used to create blood tests for pancreatic and ovarian cancers which are also difficult to detect early.

Their research is being funded by money Pennsylvania received as part of the tobacco settlement.


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