Cancer is a global scourge, being the second leading cause of deaths after cardiovascular diseases (according to the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation- IHME, 2016). Cancer affects people of all ages, genders, ethnicity, races and cultures. Some particular cancers are more prevalent in certain populations and sexes than others. For instance, the most widespread cancers in children are blood (leukemia and lymphoma) and brain cancers; while breast, colorectal and lung cancers are most frequent in women. Similarly, the most prevalent cancers in men are prostate, lung and colorectal cancers respectively.
Lung cancer is a deadline cancer, because it is difficult to diagnose early. It usually starts in a few cells, and has a long lag phase during which the malignant cells grow and the cancer progresses. During this period, lung cancer is asymptomatic, and mostly undetectable. By the time symptoms begin to appear, the disease has already advanced and spread to the other lung, adrenal gland, bones, brain and the liver. Symptoms of lung cancer include shortness of breath, hoarseness, wheezing, fatigue and weakness, loss of appetite and weight, and coughing up blood.
In places like Glasgow, Scotland (dubbed the ‘lung cancer death capital’), Newfoundland, Canada (highest cancer incidence in Canada) and Hungary (highest rate of lung cancer in men and women), lung cancer is a serious concern.
In Scotland, a group of scientists led by Prof. Frank Sullivan has discovered a new blood test which can detect lung cancer before symptoms develop. This test works by detecting the presence of autoantibodies (AABs) released when the immune system’s natural defenses kick in against the presence of newly formed cancer cells. The ‘EarlyCDT lung test’, followed by X-ray and CT scan is, therefore, indicative of lung cancer by detecting the presence of these autoantibodies. The EarlyCDT lung test measures the presence of p53, NY-ESO-1 and SOX2 proteins known to be involved in lung cancer.
Prof. Frank Sullivan, a professor of primary care medicine at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland and his team of experts, in conjunction with Nottingham-based immunodiagnostics company ‘Oncimmune,’ carried out a trial on 12,209 adults aged between 50-75 years, who were former or current smokers. The study participants were divided into a control group (who were treated using current standard techniques), and the test group (who received the EarlyCDT lung test). 41.1% of the EarlyCDT test group were diagnosed early in comparison to 26.8% of the control group. The results showed that the ‘EarlyCDT lung test’ can detect lung cancer four years before standard clinical diagnosis can.
The test also showed that death rates were reduced among people who took the test compared with people in the control group. The benefit of early diagnosis of lung cancer is an increase in treatment options which, in turn, increases patients’ chance of survival.
The next stage of this study consists of trials with 200,000 patients. This test is being tested for large-scale roll out in the United Kingdom’s National Health Service – NHS and other healthcare systems across the globe as well as for testing on liver, ovarian, breast and prostate cancer.
More details on this study can be found here: Sullivan et al, 2017, BMC Cancer, PMID: 28284200