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Immune System Protein May Provide Lung Cancer Early Warning


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Even though lung cancer can take two decades to develop, when it is detected it is already at such an advanced stage that the chances of successful treatment are very small. An immune system protein may offer the early warning system experts have been looking for.

You can read about this study in the journal Thorax.

Lung cancer kills approximately 900,000 people each year. No effective warning system exists which can detect lung cancer during its early stages - when it is treatable. Sadly, the long-term outlook for current lung cancer patients have not changed much during the last three decades.

In this study scientists analyzed plasma samples from 50 healthy volunteers and 104 people with lung cancer. They were testing for autoantibodies - immune system proteins that are directed at the body's own tissues in response to certain chemical signals in the body. In particular, they were looking for a panel of seven autoantibodies - they are all linked to solid tumors which are found in lung cancer, ovarian cancer, breast cancer and prostate cancer. These seven autoantibodies are triggered when cancerous changes are happening.

They found that 80% of patients with confirmed lung cancer had very high levels of at least one of the seven autoantibodies. These autoantibodies had been found in eight of the nine patients whose cancer had not infiltrated the lymph nodes - when the disease has not yet spread elsewhere and the chance of a cure is much greater. Out of all the healthy volunteers, only one had more than one of these autoantibodies in the blood.

According to previous research, these autoantibodies can be detected five years before the clinical symptoms of lung cancer start to show - in other words, five years before lung cancer is detected.

A previous study had also shown that these autoantibodies can be picked up in patients before their breast cancer is detected.

As the lungs are sensitive to radiation it is not ideal to use x-rays for detecting lung cancer. A blood test, however, has no side effects and is much cheaper than imaging. And the panel can be altered to include more or different autoantibodies for lung and other cancers.

The researchers say the test could be used for higher risk groups, such as smokers and second-hand smokers. If someone gets a positive result, he/she could be referred for more detailed scans, such as a CT (computed tomography) or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging).

"Autoantibodies in lung cancer: possibilities for early detection and subsequent care"

Thorax 2007; doi: 10.1136/thx.2007.083592


Written by: Christan Nordqvist

Copyright: Medical News Today

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I wonder about the "picking it up five years earlier". My oncologist estimated the age of my cancer to be 3-5 years - and I was already stage 3. How could it have been picked up five years earlier?

I doubt many of the patients on this board have a cancer that has grown for 20 years.

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