UK discovery points to early warning lung cancer signs

In collaboration with the Press Association

Researchers from the University of Nottingham have made a discovery that could allow doctors to detect the early warning signs of lung cancer.

The researchers screened blood samples from 50 healthy volunteers and 104 people with different types of lung cancer, and looked for immune proteins called autoantibodies.

Autoantibodies are produced by the body in the same way as 'normal' antibodies, but are directed to attack the body's own tissues rather than 'foreign invaders' like bacteria.

In particular, the researchers looked for seven autoantibodies that seem to be produced when cancerous changes take place.

They found that blood samples from lung cancer patients contained all seven autoantibodies eighty per cent of the time, with levels of at least one of the proteins being very high in all cases.

They also found the proteins in eight out of the nine patients whose cancer had not spread to the lymph nodes, at which stage patients have an 80 per cent chance of survival.

In contrast, only one healthy volunteer was found to have more than one of the autoantibodies in their bloodstream.

Publishing their findings in the journal Thorax, the researchers suggest that the autoantibodies, which can be detected up to five years before symptoms of lung cancer become apparent, could provide an early warning system for the diagnosis of lung cancer, offering patients a better chance of treatment success.

Such a blood test could prove particularly effective in screening patients at increased risk of lung cancer, such as smokers and those regularly exposed to passive secondhand smoke.

The technique is also showing promise in the detection of breast cancer, after researchers reported earlier this year in the Annals of Oncology that patients with breast cancer also have abnormally high levels of certain autoantibodies.