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New Methods Improve Accuracy of Lung Cancer Diagnosis

Thursday, August 20, 2009 at 02:12 PM EDT

Lung cancer is the cause of more deaths each year than any other form of cancer. Approximately 161,840 die each year from the malicious disease.

The cause for these high rates of death is partly due to the difficulty related to diagnosing the illness. As of now, there are no viable screening or early-detection processes for lung cancer. This means that the majority of diagnosed cancer cases are already in an advanced stage, which makes them incredibly difficult to treat.

In an effort to bring improved accuracy to lung cancer diagnosis, researchers at Vanderbilt University have been looking for ways to identify lung cancer earlier. As a result of these efforts, two new approaches show promise in accelerating lung cancer diagnosis and giving patients a better chance for survival.

Key to both new methods is a unique set of molecular biomarkers that indicate the early presence of lung cancer. These biomarkers can be identified by looking at either tissue or blood samples.

In early studies, the identification of these molecular biomarkers was validated in patients who had already been diagnosed with lung cancer. Now, larger trials are in the works to determine the effectiveness of each method on patients who have yet to receive a confirmed lung cancer diagnosis.

The researchers have high hopes that the screening methods will serve as a better indicator of which patients require surgery. As of now, patients typically must undergo x-ray or CT scans to identify abnormal growths on the lungs. Oftentimes, small abnormalities on the lungs are nothing more than small nodules of non-cancerous material. As such, invasive surgery is frequently necessary to confirm a lung cancer diagnosis.

Due to these obstacles, a good number of people diagnosed with lung cancer do not actually have the disease. In one study, as many as one in five individuals diagnosed with lung cancer did not actually have the disease. These individuals were subsequently subjected to surgery unnecessarily.