Anne Morrison had been a long-time smoker, so she knew she was at high risk for lung cancer. That's why she signed up for a CT study several years ago. The scan found a tumor in its early stages.
"I had no reason to think I had anything wrong with me. I had no symptoms," she said.
But now Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center researchers have come up with a potential test that could diagnose lung cancer up to a year before it shows up on a CT scan.
"We have known for some time that tumors produce substances that the immune system recognizes," said Dr. Samir Hanash.
Dr. Hanash says the hard part was identifying those antibodies.
"We did an analysis of blood samples that were collected up to a year prior to a diagnosis of lung cancer, when the subjects were completely asymptomatic, they did not know they had lung cancer," said Dr. Hanash.
Researcher narrowed the list to three common biomarkers. More half of those subjects later went on to develop lung cancer.
"The first application that we are envisioning is that a blood test together with ct scanning may give you much more sensitivity and specificity than for lung cancer than either one alone," said Dr. Hanash.
The second step is to find additional biomarkers to make the results even more accurate with the ultimate goal of devising a test to identify nonsmokers at high risk.
And it doesn't stop with lung cancer.
"You could have a panel like this specifically for breast cancer, or colon cancer so this really opens up the entire field," said Dr. Hanash.
Dr. Hanash says much more work needs to be done, but he predicts the initial lung cancer blood test could be in use within five years.
The study appears in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.