A new noninvasive, sputum-based (respiratory mucus) test may help determine if a lung nodule is malignant or benign and aid in the early detection of lung cancer. The research, published online in Clinical Cancer Research, the test, which evaluates the mucous from the respiratory tract, for genetic signs of lung cancer was able to distinguish benign lung nodules from early stage lung cancer close to 80% of the time in a recent study, according to a Forbes news report.
Feng Jiang, MD, PhD, states, “We are facing a tremendous rise in the number of lung nodules identified because of the increasing implementation of the low-dose CT lung cancer screening program. However, this screening approach has been shown to have a high false-positive rate. Therefore, a major challenge is the lack of noninvasive and accurate approaches for preoperative diagnosis of malignant nodules.”
According to Jiang, evaluating sputum for a panel of three microRNA (miRNA) biomarkers was able to successfully differentiate early-stage lung cancers from nonmalignant nodules the majority of the time, as indicated on the Forbes news report.
Jiang and colleagues first evaluated the miRNA sputum biomarker panel in a group of 122 patients who were found to have a lung nodule following a CT scan. The test was 83% accurate in identifying those who actually had lung cancer present in their nodule and was also 88% correct in identifying those who did not have lung cancer in their nodule.
Among two further groups of patients evaluated with the new test, rates of 82% and 88%, 80% and 86% were obtained, respectively. Jiang says, “These values for sensitivity and specificity are not high enough for the three-biomarker panel to be used in the clinic. To be nearly certain whether a patient does or does not have lung cancer, the specificity of a test should be close to 100%.”
Jiang adds, “Before these results can be translated into the clinic, we need to identify other biomarkers to add to the existing panel, to increase its sensitivity and specificity, and need to evaluate the panel in a prospective clinical trial.”
According to Forbes, Jiang explains that the research team is applying “new technologies to identify additional miRNA sputum biomarkers of lung cancer with the goal of expanding our biomarker panel to generate a test with high efficiency that can be practically used in clinical settings for lung cancer early detection.”