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Research into diagnosis and screening

Find out about the latest UK research into the diagnosis and screening of lung cancer.

Researchers are interested in improving the diagnosis and staging of lung cancer. Staging means how large the cancer is and whether it has spread.

We need better tests to diagnose lung cancer earlier. All new tests need to be researched so we can be sure they work better than the tests we already use. And it also makes sure they are safe.

Biomarkers and screening

At the moment there are no national screening programmes available for lung cancer because there isn’t a sensitive enough test available.

Researchers are looking for proteins in blood, breath, urine and tissue samples to see if any are linked to lung cancer. They hope to one day develop a blood or urine test to show up these proteins (biomarkers) to:

  • diagnose lung cancer more easily
  • spot lung cancer earlier if it comes back after treatment

Researchers are interested in the best ways of encouraging people at high risk of lung cancer to have a lung check. And they want to find a better way of supporting GPs to refer patients to lung cancer specialists.

DNA tests for diagnosis

DNA stands for DeoxyriboNucleic Acid. Genes are made of DNA. DNA is the genetic code that controls how the body's cells behave by controlling the type of protein they make.

A lung cancer tumour can shed tiny pieces of DNA into the blood. This is called circulating tumour DNA (ctDNA).

Scientists want to see if they can find ctDNA to help them diagnose early stage non small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). The earlier a cancer is diagnosed, the greater the chance of the treatment working well.

Looking inside the airways

Doctors use a test called a bronchoscopy to diagnose lung cancer. A bronchoscopy uses a tube to look into the airways.

Scientists are looking at a different type of bronchoscopy – called auto fluorescence imaging video bronchoscopy. Researchers hope that the difference between cancer tissue and healthy tissue will show up more clearly, so lung cancer is diagnosed earlier.


At the moment doctors often use CT scans (computed tomography scan) to diagnose lung cancer. They can also show whether the cancer has spread outside the lung.

Researchers are testing different scans such as:

  • dynamic CT scan – this shows up the blood vessels and blood flow better than a normal CT scan
  • positron emission tomography (PET) scan
  • whole body magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan

Scientists are interested in which scan:

  • is best at diagnosing early lung cancer
  • gives better information about the size of the lung cancer
  • reduces the number of scans people need before their diagnosis
Last reviewed: 
10 Jul 2016
  • Value of Autofluorescence Imaging Videobronchoscopy in Detecting Lung Cancers and Precancerous Lesions: A Review
    Qing He and others
    Respiratory Care, 2013. Volume 58, Issue 12

  • The Lung Screen Uptake Trial (LSUT): protocol for a randomised controlled demonstration lung cancer screening pilot testing a targeted invitation strategy for high risk and ‘hard-to-reach’ patients
    SL Quaife and others
    BMC Cancer, 2016. Volume 16

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