FRIDAY, Oct. 8 (HealthDay News) -- A new diagnostic tool that
looks for signs of early stage lung cancer in the lining of the
cheek show some promise in preliminary research.
Called partial wave spectroscopic (PWS) microscopy, the novel
screening approach functions as a kind of optical sweep of the
cheek that makes use of the fact that cells located far from the
site of an actual tumor undergo specific tell-tale changes in their
"The basic idea is that smoking not only affects the lungs but the entire airway tract," lead author Dr. Hemant K. Roy, director of gastroenterology research at NorthShore University HealthSystem in Evanston, Ill., explained in a news release from Northshore.
"By examining the lining of the cheek with this optical technology, we have the potential to prescreen patients at high risk for lung cancer, such as those who smoke, and identify the individuals who would likely benefit from more invasive and expensive tests versus those who don't need additional tests," Roy explained.
Roy and colleagues from Northwestern University report their
observations online and in the Oct. 15 print issue of
While lung cancer survival is predicated on early detection and
early surgical intervention, there are currently no recommended
screening methods specifically aimed at uncovering the disease at
an early stage, the study authors noted.
That means that the majority of lung cancer patients -- 90
percent of whom are smokers -- are diagnosed at a late stage,
contributing to a low survival rate of just 15 percent at five
years. In fact, in the United States, lung cancer is the leading
cause of cancer fatalities.
Enter so-called "biophotonics" technology tools, such as
Developed by a Northwestern researcher, PWS has enough
cutting-edge sensitivity to be able to detect the kind of small
cellular changes that indicate the presence of cancer down to the
20 nanometer level. The technique has already been tested in a
successful effort to screen for colon cancer and pancreatic cancer,
the study authors noted.
With that in mind, Roy's team tested the PWS screening method on
135 patients, nearly half of whom were lung cancer patients with a
history of smoking. Among the others, just over one-quarter were
smokers diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and
the rest were a mix of healthy smokers and nonsmokers.
After swabbing each patient's mouth, cheek cells were optically
scanned. The team found that PWS was successful at accurately
distinguishing between cancer patients and individuals without
cancer more than 80 percent of the time -- a rate that the authors
said is equivalent to that of screening methods used for other
If the technique continues to perform well under further
testing, the study authors suggested, it could eventually be used
as a pre-screening tool to detect those high-risk patients who
would benefit from additional testing, such as CT scans.
Dr. Roy Herbst, chief of the section of thoracic medical
oncology at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, described
the study as "a very interesting use of the latest technology."
"Certainly lung cancer is a disease that more than half the time has already spread and is incurable," he noted. "So, if we could find it earlier it would be a huge advance."
"So, while this is still preliminary and not yet ready for use in the clinic, the work here suggests that you can use a modern tools to develop a noninvasive technique that can help find the disease earlier and determine who's at a greater risk for malignancy than others," Herbst said. "And that would allow us to intervene sooner, which of course would be very helpful."
For more on lung cancer screening and diagnosis, visit the
U.S. National Cancer Institute.