We often assume that lung cancer patients brought their disease on themselves by smoking at some point in their lives. Whether we’re being judgmental or generalizing, the data backs up our assumption; ¾ of all lung cancer patients are past or current smokers. But that leaves ¼ who never picked up a cigarette facing the same diagnosis.
Since smoking is the number one risk factor associated with lung cancer, it can be hard to catch nonsmokers’ cases early. Now, preliminary research suggests a blood test could help identify nonsmokers who have lung cancer.
The test could be used as a diagnostic tool for doctors who notice signs of trouble on their patients’ chest scans.
Investigator Charlie Birse, associate director of product development at Celera Corp., says the test “would allow these imaging tests to be further evaluated and provide a degree of certainty in diagnosis.”
The relatively small study tested more than 600 participants’ blood samples for biomarkers that appear in cancer patients. Once they identified some potential biomarkers, they tested 80 samples – 40 from people with lung cancer and 40 from people who did not have the disease.
The results appear promising, if preliminary. The biomarkers helped the study authors identify the individuals with cancer 83% of the time.
If the study can be replicated with a larger sample and the results verified, we may see a simple blood test to confirm a lung cancer diagnosis in the future.
The number one step you can take to lower your risk of lung cancer is to quit smoking. It’s never too late.
Never been a smoker? Excellent. But there’s more you can do to keep your risk as low as possible:
- Limit your exposure to second-hand smoke. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 3,000 people die every year from breathing it.
- Be aware of radon and other carcinogens (materials known to cause cancer). The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates radon is the second-leading cause of cancer. It’s a colorless, odorless gas that can seep into your home or workplace through the ground. For information on monitoring the levels of radon in your environment, contact the EPA.
- Know your family history. Your risk for lung cancer might be higher if your immediate family members have had the disease.
- Adjust your diet. Yes, even your diet can impact your cancer risk. The impact isn’t as dramatic as other risk factors, but sticking to a diet low in cholesterol and keeping your alcohol intake moderate (no more than one drink a day for women, two for men) will lower your risk.