A potentially life-saving new blood test that can detect lung cancer up to five years prior to any symptoms emerging is being trialled by the NHS in Scotland. The procedure, which has been used for two years already in the United States, could be used for mass screening if it proves to be cost-effective.
The test identifies the cancer in its earliest stages by detecting antibodies released in the blood by the immune system when the disease is present. Doctors are able to tell if a tumour is developing when these antibodies rise above certain levels, even when not yet visible on a scan.
The revolutionary treatment could give those at risk a greater chance of survival if lung cancer is present.
Approximately 40,000 people in the United Kingdom are diagnosed with lung cancer each year, and the killer condition is responsible for 35,000 deaths.
85% of patients are diagnosed with the deadly disease in its advanced stages as most noticeable symptoms are not present until later on. Present statistics show that only 27% of men and 30% of women diagnosed with lung cancer in the United Kingdom survive for longer than a year after diagnosis. Only 7% of men and 9% of women live longer than five years.
The Chief Medical Officer for Scotland – Harry Burns – states that diagnosing the disease in the early stages significantly increases the sufferer’s chance of survival as patients can be treated when they are in better general health and less aggressive treatment can be used.
The trial will include 10,000 smokers at high-risk of developing lung cancer – those who have smoked, on average, 20 cigarettes per day for 20 years. Half of those being tested will be given the standard NHS care, while the other half will receive the EarlyCDT-Lung test. Those who test positive with the new treatment will then be sent for a CT scan to determine whether or not lung cancer is present.
To decide if the breakthrough treatment is cost effective, the survival rates and costs of care of the two groups will be compared. A study conducted in the United States of over 50,000 smokers concluded that the new test cut death rates by 20%.
Oncimmune Ltd, the company behind the new development, are working on tests to detect prostate, ovarian and colon cancer, and hope to have a test early next year for the early detection of breast cancer.