A new non-invasive, three-dimensional test by VisionGate Inc. could help detect lung cancer in its early stages The test, called LuCED, would be the first of its kind to screen for early stage-lung cancer without the use of X-rays.
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the world. The disease will claim 154,000 lives in the United States this year alone, which accounts for more deaths than breast cancer, prostate cancer and ovarian cancer combined.
Nearly 85 percent of the patients diagnosed with lung cancer in the United States die from the disease. Early detection is essential to reversing this trend.
However, there is no standardized test for early detection.
"The problem is that we are picking up lung cancer too late for a cure," said Dr. Gene Pawlick, a pathologist and member of the medical advisory panel at VisionGate, a Phoenix, Ariz.-based company that conducts research in cancer detection and prevention.
"We need to go earlier into the disease process, and identify the cancer when it's much younger. And that will afford us the opportunity to treat the cancer," says Pawlick.
According to a recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine, early detection can reduce lung cancer death by up to 20 percent with up to 92 percent of those patients being curable.
However, existing technology is inadequate to deal with the issue. Current diagnostic tools either miss the cancer or result in high numbers of false positives. In a landmark study
conducted by the National Cancer Institute, 53,000 high-risk patients were screened using low-dose CT scans. Although the CT scans were able to reduce cancer deaths overall, more than 96 percent of the results were false positives over three rounds of screening.
According to Scarlett Spring, president of VisionGate, false positives come at a steep price-both for the patients and the health care system. "You can't afford to tell a patient that they have cancer when they don't," said Spring.
False positives also require follow-up care, either in the form of more scans or invasive biopsies. Such procedures drive up health care costs significantly.
VisionGate's LuCED would offer an alternative to existing technologies. The test analyzes cells from the patient's lungs that may be found in sputum, which can be collected by coughing. The sample is then sent to a laboratory, where it's analyzed for any abnormal cells.
VisionGate is still conducting trials, but early models indicate that the test will greatly reduce false positive results. In combination with existing technologies like CT scans, lung cancer detection rates could significantly improve.
"It's a huge breakthrough," said Pawlick. "It's relatively cheap, and it's a relatively rapid turnaround, and you're actually seeing the cancer cells. There is the potential to save a lot of lives."