New Test Identifies Deadliest Forms Of Lung Cancer Earlier
Posted August 9, 2006
DURHAM, N.C. — Lung cancer kills more Americans than breast, prostate and colorectal cancers combined. Only 15 percent of lung cancer patients survive five years after diagnosis. But researchers at Duke University Medical Center have developed a new test to improve life-saving treatment for early-stage lung cancer patients.
Doctors classify lung cancer tumors as either aggressive, fast-growing tumors or the quiet, slow-growth type. Until now, doctors weren't always sure which was which so they judged the tumors by physical characteristics.
Duke thoracic surgeon Dr. David Harpole said it's a guessing game, like a coin flip, that determines whether a patient needs additional treatment after surgery.
"We treat all lung cancers the same, when we know patients aren't the same and their tumors aren't the same," said Harpole.
Duke researchers developed the first-ever genomic test to look at the genes inside a tumor cell. The information reveals the risk that the cancer might spread, despite surgery. Twenty-five percent of early-stage lung cancer tumors are the aggressive type.
"So those are the people then we can concentrate chemotherapy, radiation therapy," said Harpole.
Duke molecular geneticist Dr. David Nevins said the goal is to keep the cancer from coming back, because the second time is always the worst.
"Because an individual with lung cancer, if they have a recurrence, it's very likely that they are going to ultimately die from their disease," said Nevins.
About 6,000 lung cancer patients in the United States have the aggressive tumor type. But, until now, doctors didn't have a test to identify them.
"About 6,000 patients could benefit from the test and ultimately be saved," said Nevins.
Nevins said if even a fraction of those patients are saved because of the new test, it would be a great step forward.