A new study by researchers from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), published today in JAMA Oncology, demonstrates that a blood test measuring four protein biomarkers can improve the identification of individuals who would later develop lung cancer.
These biomarkers may help refine the criteria for including current and former smokers in lung cancer screening programmes, using low-dose computed tomography (CT) scans, aimed at reducing deaths from this common cancer.
“By using information from four blood-based protein biomarkers together with smoking information, we were able to identify 63% of future lung cancer patients among former and current smokers, compared with only 42% using current eligibility criteria for CT screening in the USA,” says IARC scientist Dr Mattias Johansson, one of the study’s principal investigators. “Our study demonstrated that biomarkers have the potential to significantly improve the identification of those individuals who are most likely to benefit from screening.”
The burden of lung cancer mortality and the potential for early detection
Lung cancer is responsible for 20% of all cancer-related deaths around the world.
Reducing the prevalence of tobacco smoking is the most important way to prevent lung cancer, as well as other tobacco-associated cancers worldwide.
The number of deaths from lung cancer can be decreased by reducing exposure to tobacco and other known risk factors, such as air pollution and radon.
In addition, CT screening has the potential to reduce lung cancer mortality by detecting cancers at an early stage, when curative treatment is still possible.
“This is the first study to systematically demonstrate that a panel of protein markers can improve the identification of future lung cancer cases,” says Dr Paul Brennan, Head of the Section of Genetics at IARC and one of the study’s principal investigators. “This test could be used to improve current screening eligibility criteria and increase the benefits of CT screening.”
The study, which was conducted in collaboration with the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, in Houston, USA, measured blood levels of four tumour-related protein biomarkers in pre-diagnostic blood samples from a cohort study in the USA to build a biomarker-based risk prediction tool. The performance of the risk prediction tool was then tested in pre-diagnostic blood samples from two large European cohort studies: the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) and the Northern Sweden Health and Disease Study (NSHDS).
“Avoiding smoking is the best way to reduce the risk of developing lung cancer, but among current and former smokers who are at high risk, early detection has a key role to play in further reducing deaths from this disease,” says IARC Director Dr Christopher Wild. “These promising laboratory biomarker results offer new opportunities to improve survival for patients with lung cancer.”