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Doctors Developing Phlegm Test For Lung Cancer Detection


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Test Could Take Years To Develop

POSTED: 4:13 pm EST February 16, 2007

UPDATED: 7:50 pm EST February 16, 2007

BALTIMORE -- Doctors at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore are working on a simple test to help diagnose lung cancer in its earliest stages.

For patients, the test would be easy. They would only have to cough up some phlegm. The doctors believe genetic changes in the phlegm could be a sign of lung cancer

"The test is easy to perform," said Dr. Feng Jiang. "No danger to the patient."

The test looks for genetic changes to the DNA in the phlegm a patient coughs up. In a preliminary study, the test identified 76 percent of stage one lung cancers in patients whose phlegm showed certain genetic changes.

"It's not as accurate as I think we would like it be, to date, but I think it's a step in the right direction," said Dr. Nevins Todd.

Right now, the test is based on changes involving two genes. Jiang hopes to improve the accuracy by looking for changes involving up to eight genes.

Dr. Richard Battafarano, a lung cancer specialist, said that if the test proves successful, he believes it could be used in combination with X-ray and CT scans to determine how best to treat patients with suspicious spots on their lungs.

"All three of those taken together are much more likely to identify patients who have early cancers so we can recommend excision and treatment and spare the patients who don't have cancer from the biopsies and unnecessary surgery," Battafarano said.

There's no time frame for how long it could take to improve the test -- it could be years -- but lung cancer is the No. 1 cancer killer in the United States, so this type of test could be extremely helpful.

More Information:

National Cancer Institute

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