Potential early warning system for lung cancer identified

The British Midlands Development Corporation announced that new research from The University of Nottingham has pinpointed a potential early warning system for lung cancer.

The study, published in the journal Thorax, found that changes in the blood can be detected which signal the presence of lung cancer, and that these changes can be present years before outward symptoms become apparent. Early diagnosis means earlier treatment -- which is much more likely to be effective.

Worldwide, lung cancer kills around 900,000 people every year, and can take 20 years or more to develop fully. But it is usually only picked up at an advanced stage, when the chances of successful treatment are minimal.

As yet, there is no effective early warning system to detect the disease in its early treatable stages, and the dismal long-term prospects of patients with lung cancer have changed little in the past 30 years.

The research team at Nottingham, in collaboration with a team at Johannes Gutenberg University in Germany, analyzed blood (plasma) samples from 50 healthy volunteers and 104 people with different types of lung cancer.

They tested for autoantibodies -- immune system proteins directed at the body's own tissues, in response to specific chemical signals in the body. They looked in particular for a panel of seven autoantibodies, which are associated with 'solid tumors,' such a lung, breast, ovarian, and prostate cancers, and triggered when cancerous changes are taking place.

They found the presence of all seven autoantibodies, and very high levels of at least one of the seven autoantibodies in almost eight out of 10 samples taken from patients with confirmed lung cancer.

And they were found in eight out of the nine patients whose cancer had not infiltrated the lymph nodes, the body's 'gatekeepers'. This indicates that the disease had not yet spread elsewhere and offers an 80% chance of a cure.

Only one healthy volunteer had more than one of these autoantibodies in their blood.

Other research has indicated that these autoantibodies can be picked up as early as five years before clinical symptoms start to show.

This study is one of a number of studies looking at autoantibodies in cancer.

In a previous study, published earlier this year in the Annals of Oncology, the researchers found abnormally high levels of specific autoantibodies in patients with breast cancer, prompting them to suggest that a test for these could be added to the screening program and may be helpful as an aid to the diagnosis of early breast cancer, especially in individuals at risk of developing the disease such as those with a strong family history. This study also demonstrated that these autoantibodies could be detected before clinical presentation.

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

Online First Thorax 2007; doi: 10.1136/thx.2007.083592.

Notes to editors: The University of Nottingham is Britain's University of the Year (The Times Higher Awards 2006). It undertakes world-changing research, provides innovative teaching and a student experience of the highest quality. Ranked by Newsweek in the world's Top 75 universities, its academics have won two Nobel Prizes since 2003. The University is an international institution with campuses in the United Kingdom, Malaysia and China.

About The British Midlands Development Corporation

The British Midlands Development Corporation is the North American economic development agency for central England. The Midlands region is located just one hour north of London and includes the major commercial centers of Birmingham, Nottingham, Coventry and Northampton.

As an agency funded by the UK Government, The British Midlands Development Corporation provides specialist advice and support to North American companies seeking to establish a presence or expand a current operation in the region. The British Midlands Development Corporation provides access to business networks, details about sources for grants and funding, business support services, and information to help companies identify opportunities to develop and grow.

The British Midlands Development Corporation is based in Chicago with branch offices in Boston, Washington DC and San Jose.

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