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Research into lung cancer screening

This page tells you about research into screening for lung cancer. You can find information about

 

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Research into lung cancer screening

Screening means testing people for the early stages of a disease before they have any symptoms.

At the moment there is no national screening programme for lung cancer in the UK. We don’t yet have an accurate, reliable test that can find lung cancer in people who don’t have symptoms. We need to find a test that is simple, quick, not too expensive, and that does not cause harm.

Lung cancer is often picked up on chest X-ray. But by the time it is diagnosed this way, it is often quite advanced.

Researchers are trying to find screening tests that may help to diagnose lung cancer earlier. They are looking at a scan called a spiral CT scan, and a special type of bronchoscopy. They are also looking at tests for substances in the body (biomarkers) that could show lung cancer is developing before the person has any symptoms.

Cancer Research UK supports a lot of this research. You can find out about lung cancer trials on the Cancer Research UK Clinical Trials database.

 

CR PDF Icon View a summary of treating lung cancer.

 

 

What screening is

Screening means testing people for the early stages of a disease before they have any symptoms. We have detailed information about cancer screening and UK screening programmes.

At the moment there is no national screening programme for lung cancer in the UK. We don’t yet have a reliable test that can find lung cancer in people who don’t have symptoms. We need to find a test that is simple, quick, not too expensive, and that does not cause harm.

Researchers are trying to find better tests to detect lung cancer early. Lung cancer is often picked up on chest X-ray. But by the time it is diagnosed this way, it is often quite advanced. Tests being looked at include spiral CT, fluorescence bronchoscopy and chemical changes (biomarkers) in the body.

 

Spiral CT scan

A large trial involving more than 50,000 people in the USA reported in 2010 that a type of scan called spiral CT scanning helped to diagnose lung cancer earlier for some people at high risk of developing it. The trial involved people with no lung cancer symptoms who had smoked for at least 10 years and people who had been exposed to asbestos.

The aim behind the screening is to try to detect lung cancer at a stage where it can be operated on. This could help to improve cure rates. But we need more research into the best way of using spiral CT in screening programmes. We also need to find out which groups of people it helps most. Spiral CT scanning is also called low dose helical CT. It uses lower doses of radiation than standard CT scans.

A UK trial called the Lung-SEARCH study is looking at using spiral CT scans combined with a new test called fluorescence bronchoscopy. The trial is trying to find lung cancer at a very early stage in people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. COPD means lung disease such as chronic bronchitis and emphysema. People with COPD have a higher risk of lung cancer than people in the general population.

Researchers have also been looking into a new way of carrying out a test called a bronchoscopy in people at high risk of lung cancer. This is called fluorescence bronchoscopy and involves using blue and white light to examine the lining of the airways.

A UK fluorescence bronchoscopy trial compared this type of bronchoscopy to standard bronchoscopy. It found that fluorescence bronchoscopy is better at showing changes in the lining of the airways that may become lung cancer. More research is being carried out to see whether this is a helpful test to use as part of a screening programme.

 

Chemical changes in the body

The MEDLUNG study is looking for substances in the body (biomarkers) that could show that lung cancer is developing before the person has any symptoms. It is for people who are at high risk.

People in the MEDLUNG study are having tests because they have symptoms that could be due to lung cancer. The researchers look at samples of sputum, blood and lung tissue to try and find changes in the cells. The aim of this study is to find a biomarker that doctors may be able to use in the future to screen people for lung cancer.

 

More about lung cancer clinical trials

You can find out more about these trials and other lung cancer trials on our clinical trials database. If you want to see all the trials, tick the boxes for closed trials and trial results.

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Updated: 10 November 2014