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Blood Test That Detects Lung Cancer

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Featured in National Health Magazine

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Dec. 1, 2006)

The focus of this month's issue of Environmental Health Perspectives is "Signs of the Times: Biomarkers in Perspective," and it includes an article describing the work of a team of University of Kentucky Chandler Medical Center researchers to produce a blood test that can detect lung cancer in its early stages.

For the past five years, Drs. Edward A. Hirschowitz and Li Zhong have led a team developing the blood test to detect non-small cell lung cancer, which could potentially help detect early stage lung cancer in people with high risk factors for developing the disease, such as age, smoking and genetic history.

The team is now working through the final phase of the project – translating what they know into a testing format that can easily and cost-effectively be used in any doctor's office. "Early detection of lung cancer is the key to improving survival," Zhong said.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death for both men and women in the United States and around the world, mainly because lung cancers are found in late stages and the best treatment opportunities already have been missed. In Kentucky, the incidence of lung cancer is 49 percent higher than the national rate.

Specifically, non-small cell lung cancer is associated with 80 percent of all diagnosed lung cancers, making the availability of such a test to detect lung cancer in its early stages – when it is more treatable – a very exciting development.

The multi-biomarker blood test, which works by identifying the body's own immune response to tumors, would help diagnose lung cancer at the earliest stage in those with high risk factors. Zhong, who also was the lead author of an article about the blood test appearing in the July 2006 issue of the Journal of Thoracic Oncology described how the test is 90 percent accurate in correctly predicting non-small-cell lung cancer in patients years before any CT scan can detect it.

Once developed and in use clinically, it could become the first clinical blood test to predict a cancer since the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test was introduced in the 1970s.

Both Hirschowitz and Zhong are faculty in the Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine at UK.

Environmental Health Perspectives is a monthly journal of peer-reviewed research and news on the impact of the environment on human health. EHP is published by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

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