Simple blood test could diagnose small cell lung cancer

Simple blood test could diagnose small cell lung cancer
© iStock/ Edwin Tan

Scientists have potentially discovered a method using a blood test to diagnose and characterise early-stage small cell lung cancer.

Researchers from the University of Manchester CRUK Manchester Institute Cancer Biomarker Centre could potentially diagnose and characterise early-stage small cell lung cancer with a blood test. The researchers worked with a team at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York and published their findings in Nature Cancer.

Small cell lung cancer rapidly spreads to other body parts through the process called metastasis. Most cases are diagnosed late with advanced metastatic disease, and a few survive beyond one to two years. The minority of patients with small cell lung cancer diagnosed early and have surgery can live for five years or more.

Analysing blood samples

The research team developed a new method to analyse blood samples and pick up specific DNA modifications called methylation that change early on in the growth of cancer. The team developed an innovative computational method to assess which methylation modifications were present.

The teams wanted to ensure their method was sensitive enough to find methylation modifications in the very low levels of DNA shed from a patient’s tumour into the bloodstream, known as circulating tumour DNA (ctDNA). The test was sensitive and accurate enough to detect methylation of ctDNA, even from patients diagnosed with small cell lung cancer early on.

Professor Charles Rudin, Chief of Thoracic Oncology at Memorial Sloane Kettering Cancer Center who leads the global consortium that defined the different types of SCLC, said: “To our knowledge, this is the first published study to show that DNA methylation analysis of a blood sample can identify the SCLC molecular subtypes. Though further validation is now needed in a larger independent patient cohort, this blood test could one day assist clinicians in choosing better treatments for SCLC, which is currently notoriously difficult to manage.”

Novel blood test to classify small cell lung cancer type

The standard treatment for this cancer is chemotherapy, but recent studies have illuminated that different types of this cancer respond inversely to treatments. Now, the researchers developed a novel blood test that could classify which type of small cell lung cancer is affecting a patient, which could drive more personalised treatment options.

Professor Caroline Dive, who led the study funded by the USA National Cancer Institute (NCI) and Cancer Research UK, said: “SCLC is a terrible disease, causing so much anguish to patients and their families. We think this blood test could be really useful in future clinical trials of new therapies to predict and monitor treatment responses.”


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