Lung cancer patients could receive more precise treatment, and their progress could be better tracked, using a new high-tech method of noninvasive medical imaging analysis, according to a study published by the journalĀ PLOS ONE.

Genetic changes increasingly are recognized as driving cancer development. But obtaining evidence of these changes usually requires a biopsy, which can be problematic for sensitive regions of the body such as the lungs.

Based on a review of 48 patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), the study found that by scanning their tumor cells using “quantitative computed tomography based texture analysis” (QTA), researchers could determine — with nearly 90% accuracy — whether the patient’s tumor had a cancer-causing K-ras gene mutation.

The study was led by investigators at the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), the Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center at Scottsdale Healthcare, and Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA).

NSCLC represents more than 85% of all lung cancers, which will kill an estimated 159,000 Americans this year, making it the leading cause of cancer-related death. It has a five-year survival rate less than 10 percent.

QTA was shown to be an accurate — and noninvasive — alternative to surgical biopsy and other invasive means of collecting and analyzing biological samples, the study said. This method of making genomic distinctions may help physicians determine the best type of treatment to administer to each patient.

“The ability to rapidly and noninvasively characterize NSCLC tumors would be a great asset to clinical oncologists,” said Dr. Glen Weiss, the study’s lead author, Director of Clinical Research and Medical Oncologist at Cancer Treatment Centers of America’s Western Regional Medical Center in Phoenix, and a Clinical Associate Professor in TGen’s Cancer and Cell Biology Division.