Researchers say they have developed a test that can predict with near certainty whether the most common form of lung cancer will return after surgery.
The new test could save tens of thousands of lives every year by letting doctors prescribe more aggressive treatments for patients whose cancers are likely to reappear, the team of scientists who developed it at Duke University said.
Called the Lung Metagene Predictor and described in this week’s New England Journal of Medicine, the test scans non-small cell lung cancer cells’ genetic material to identify patterns that occur in cancers that are likely to reappear. It is 90 percent accurate, its developers said.
Lung cancer is the most common form of cancer.
Non-small-cell cancers, if caught early, are usually treated with surgery while small-cell cancers typically are treated with chemotherapy. In one-third of the patients who undergo surgery, the cancer will reappear.
At the moment, physicians gauge how lethal the tumor is by its size, whether it has spread and whether it invaded a patient’s lymph nodes.
“Now, with our test, we can say with confidence that we can identify this group of patients so that they can be treated accordingly,” said Anil Potti, who headed the Duke team.
Potti and his colleagues tested 89 patients. Another investigation involving Duke researchers will study 1,000 volunteers in the United States and Canada to evaluate the test’s effectiveness in patients who have non-small-cell lung cancer.
“If we can use the test to increase patient survival by even 5 percent, we would save 10,000 lives a year. In reality, we can do much better than that,” said Duke researcher David Harpole.
Revision date: July 7, 2011
Last revised: by Jorge P. Ribeiro, MD