Scan Donation Program Allows Patients to Contribute to Lung Cancer Research

People across the U.S. who undergo computed tomography (CT) lung scans to screen for lung cancer or monitor their existing cancer can now donate their scans to lung cancer research. The Give A Scan program strips the images of personal identifiers and adds them to a publicly available website, where they can be accessed by researchers worldwide at no charge. To provide additional data for investigators, patients can give (anonymized) information about their family cancer history, smoking history, exposure to other cancer-causing agents, and treatment regimens along with their scans, if they feel comfortable doing so. This material will help researchers better understand lung cancer and aid their efforts to develop more effective treatments and diagnostics.


Advances in Screening and Surgery Improve Lung Cancer Survival

New U.S. guidelines recommending low-dose computed tomography (CT) scans to screen for lung cancer in high-risk individuals are leading to earlier detection and better survival for lung cancer patients. Screening is available without a prescription for people who have smoked the equivalent of at least a pack of cigarettes per day for 30 years. The scans can uncover lung cancer in early stages, when the chances for successful treatment are the highest. Recent medical advances have also made lung cancer surgery less invasive. Robotic surgeries can often be performed through small incisions in the chest, without the need to crack open ribs. These developments mean more lung cancer patients can undergo surgery and those who do have an easier recovery.


Researchers Call Melanoma Rise an Epidemic

Invasive melanoma rates are 17 times higher in men and 9 times higher in women than they were 60 years ago, according to a new analysis of Connecticut Tumor Registry data from 1950 to 2007. The registry included nearly 20,000 people with melanomas that had spread, as well as more than 3,600 who died from melanoma. Incidence rates rose from about 2 to 33 per 100,000 for men, and from more than 2 to 25 per 100,000 for women. In addition, mortality rates more than tripled in men (from 1.6 to about 5.0 per 100,000) and doubled in women (from 1.3 to 2.6 per 100,000). Calling U.S. melanoma rates an epidemic, the researchers urge targeting high-risk populations with a national prevention and early-detection program. In Germany, a screening program reduced melanoma deaths by 40%.


New Technique Makes Testing Lung Fluid for Cancer Easier and More Accurate

A new technique examines the physical properties of cells from lung fluid to see whether they are likely to be cancerous. Pleural fluid, which lubricates lungs, can build up excessively (a condition called ‘pleural effusion’) in a number of lung diseases, including cancer. Examining cells from pleural effusions for cancer is traditionally done by visual inspection, which requires difficult, time-consuming dyeing or labeling of cells and is not always reliable. The new technique uses a rapid automated process that squeezes cells to assess their consistency. Cancer cells are more ‘squishable’ than healthy cells, which allows them to infiltrate tissues and spread. The new technique can analyze 1,000 cells per second and is more sensitive than the traditional approach.


Biomarker May Allow Blood Test for Brain Metastases in Lung Cancer Patients

Testing for a biomarker in lung cancer patients’ blood could indicate whether they have brain metastases (cancer spread to the brain). S100B, a protein found in the brain, is usually kept separate from the rest of the body by the so-called blood-brain barrier (BBB). Brain metastases weaken the BBB, allowing S100B to enter the bloodstream. In a recent study, researchers were able to identify 89% of patients with brain metastases by measuring the S100B blood levels of lung cancer patients, although the test also produced a number of false alarms. A blood test for brain metastases would likely be much cheaper than the brain scans currently used.


Cancer Screening Less Beneficial in Older Patients

Although cancer rates increase with age, screening for cancer may not be useful past a certain age. Older patients already have a shorter life expectancy and may die of other causes before the cancer becomes a problem. Indeed, the psychological burden of a cancer diagnosis and the side effects of cancer treatment may unnecessarily lower a person’s quality of life. While the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that colorectal cancer screening and mammograms for breast cancer screening be stopped after age 75 years, a recent study by the National Cancer Institute suggests that a patient’s overall health should be taken into account. An older patient with multiple chronic illnesses will have a lower life expectancy, while a healthy patient the same age may still benefit from cancer screening.


Cancer Screening Less Beneficial in Older Patients

Although cancer rates increase with age, screening for cancer may not be useful past a certain age. Older patients already have a shorter life expectancy and may die of other causes before the cancer becomes a problem. Indeed, the psychological burden of a cancer diagnosis and the side effects of cancer treatment may unnecessarily lower a person’s quality of life. While the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that colorectal cancer screening and mammograms for breast cancer screening be stopped after age 75 years, a recent study by the National Cancer Institute suggests that a patient’s overall health should be taken into account. An older patient with multiple chronic illnesses will have a lower life expectancy, while a healthy patient the same age may still benefit from cancer screening.


Cancer Screening Less Beneficial in Older Patients

Although cancer rates increase with age, screening for cancer may not be useful past a certain age. Older patients already have a shorter life expectancy and may die of other causes before the cancer becomes a problem. Indeed, the psychological burden of a cancer diagnosis and the side effects of cancer treatment may unnecessarily lower a person’s quality of life. While the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that colorectal cancer screening and mammograms for breast cancer screening be stopped after age 75 years, a recent study by the National Cancer Institute suggests that a patient’s overall health should be taken into account. An older patient with multiple chronic illnesses will have a lower life expectancy, while a healthy patient the same age may still benefit from cancer screening.


Sniffing Out Cancer

Researchers are working on an ‘electronic nose’ that could detect cancer by smell. The abnormal chemical processes inside cancer cells can lead to different substances being released from these cells than from healthy tissues, including different odor molecules. An electronic nose is a machine that uses numerous chemical sensors to detect odor molecules with higher sensitivity and accuracy than a human nose, or even a dog’s nose. Now scientists are examining blood samples from cancer patients and healthy individuals to determine the patterns that distinguish the two and to program an electronic nose to recognize the difference. The hope is that a future ‘smell test’ may be able to reliably identify cancer in its early stages, without the need for invasive procedures.