“What that means is that we may be on the verge of developing a blood test to detect lung cancer in it’s earliest stages” said Dr. Carlo Croce, Director of the Human Cancer Genetics program at Ohio Sate’s James Cancer Hospital.
Croce and his team discovered that molecules in the blood, known as microRNA, develop certain characteristic patterns when lung cancer first begins to form - and long before there are any visible signs of trouble. “The tumor is there, but it’s very small” said Croce, “it cannot be detected by conventional means but can be detected by looking at microRNA.”
The findings could be profound. By the end of the year, another 150,000 Americans will lose their battle against lung cancer.* It is, by far, the deadliest form of cancer in this country, claiming more people each year than breast, colon and prostate cancers combined.*
One of the reasons lung cancer is so deadly, is because it’s often not discovered until the latter stages of the disease. Symptoms may be subtle or non-existent, and by the time patients know something is wrong, it’s often too late.
Right now the most effective way to diagnose lung cancer is by performing what’s known as a spiral CT scan (short for spiral computed tomography scan). The problem is, spiral CT scans are often prescribed only after there are clear signs of trouble. By then, lung cancer is often advanced and, in more serious cases, already spreading to other parts of the body.
But if lung cancer is caught early, the outcome can be much better. “The difference is enormous” said Croce. “If lung cancer is detected very early, the probability of cure, by removing the tumor from the lung of the patient, is very, very high.”
That’s something 54-year old Robin Skinner is banking on. Unlike many lung cancer patients, Robin caught hers fairly early, even though it was purely by accident.
Skinner was experiencing pain in one of her toes and went to see her doctor for what she thought was a case of gout. But her blood work showed something much more dire.
“My doctor drew blood and called me about a week later and said, ‘No, you don’t have gout. You are missing oxygen somewhere in your body.’”