Gene Test Catches Tiny Cancers

Lung cancer tumors that are small but deadly can be found through a genetic test

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) A new genetic test, combined with CT screening, can identify aggressive lung cancer at an early stage. Results may help determine the best therapy options to help patients live longer.

Doctors increasingly use CT (computed tomography) to screen patients for T1a node-negative non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). T1a tumors are small—less than 2 cm, or about ¾ of an inch. Node-negative means the cancer has not spread to the lymph nodes. Screening alone, however, cannot distinguish between less aggressive tumors and ones that are linked with poor survival. A new gene test can help.

"Find out about genetic tests that can help guide cancer therapies."

Johannes Kratz, MD, a surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston conducted the study while at the University of California, San Francisco.

He and his colleagues found that highly aggressive tumors at a very early stage have a molecular “signature” that can be identified by a tissue test.

Investigators looked at results from 269 patients who had surgery to remove small, aggressive NSCLC tumors. They were identified as high-, low- or intermediate risk tumors by this new genetic test. The tumors had not yet spread to the lymph nodes.

Researchers noted that overall survival for patients identified as high risk was 52 percent at five years. On the other hand, the group identified as low risk had a survival rate of 83 percent, while the intermediate group had a survival rate of 69 percent.

Surgery can improve outcomes for high-risk patients, some of whom may also benefit from additional chemotherapy after surgery.

“We have known for a number of years that patients with aggressive early stage lung cancers identified by molecular prognostic tests benefit from additional therapy,” Dr. Kratz said in a statement. “Using this test gives us the ability to offer a personalized cancer prognosis to patients with lung cancer.”

Early detection of lung tumors through low-dose CT screening, combined with a reliable test that can identify highly aggressive tumors that benefit from individualized treatments, may help decrease the mortality rate from lung cancer—the leading cancer killer of men and women in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society.

Dr. Kratz added, “This new genetic test is immediately available to clinicians via a CLIA [Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendment]-approved testing laboratory, and it’s a tool that patients can ask their physicians about—not sometime in the future—today.”

The study was released as an abstract January 29 at the 49th Annual Meeting of The Society of Thoracic Surgeons held at the Los Angeles Convention Center. The study has yet to be published in a scientific journal and the findings should be considered preliminary. Dr. Katz is a consultant/advisory board member with Pinpoint Genomics, Inc.

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Review Date: 
February 1, 2013
Last Updated:
February 3, 2013