Last year in the UK over 60,000 cancer patients enrolled on clinical trials aimed at improving cancer treatments and making them available to all.
A study to find out more about biomarkers in small cell cancer
This study looked at biomarkers in tissue samples, and in the blood of people with small cell cancer. A biomarker is a substance in the body that doctors can measure, which helps them tell how a disease is developing or a treatment is working. This study was supported by Cancer Research UK.
Genes are coded messages that tell a cell how to behave and grow. Doctors may use certain genes or proteins in cancer cells as biomarkers.
Small cell cancer is called ‘small cell’ because under a microscope the cells appear small. It most often affects the lungs (small cell lung cancer), but can also start in other parts of the body such as the food pipe (oesophagus) or the cervix.
In this study, the researchers wanted to look at the biomarkers in small cell cancer to see if they could help them to
- Decide which treatments to use
- Work out why treatment sometimes doesn’t work
- Develop new treatments
Summary of results
The study team found that they could use a biomarker in the blood of people with small cell lung cancer who were having treatment.
This study recruited 97 people who had small cell lung cancer. Everyone gave a blood sample before starting chemotherapy.
The study team counted the number of cancer cells in the blood samples. These are called circulating tumour cells (CTCs).
Of these 97 people, 77 had CTCs. These 77 people were put into 2 groups. Those who had
- A low number of CTCs in their blood sample
- A high number of CTCs in their blood sample
The team then looked at how long it was before their cancer came back. The average amount of time was
- Just over 4½ months for those with high CTCs
- Nearly 9 months for those with low CTCs
They also looked at the average amount of time people lived. It was
- Just under 5½ months for those with high CTCs
- 11½ months for those with low CTCs
53 people had a blood sample taken after their 1st cycle of chemotherapy. When the researchers looked at the number of CTCs, they found that in
- 43 people they had fallen
- 2 people they had increased
- 9 people there was no change
The team also counted the number of times there were more than 3 individual cancer cells grouped together in the blood samples. These are called circulating tumour microemboli (CTM). On average they found that people with CTMs in their blood didn’t live as long and their cancer came back sooner than those who didn’t have CTMs in their blood.
The study team concluded that CTCs could be used as a biomarker for people who are having treatment for small cell lung cancer.
We have based this summary on information from the team who ran the trial. The information they sent us has been reviewed by independent specialists (
How to join a clinical trial
Dr Fiona Blackhall
Cancer Research UK
European Union FP7
Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre (ECMC)
The Christie Lung Cancer Research Fund