UW develops early detection for lung cancer



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Posted on July 1, 2009 at 4:22 PM

Updated Friday, Jan 4 at 10:44 AM

Video: Local researchers work to detect lung cancer in early stages

There still is no early detection screening for lung cancer. As a result, survivor rates remain low, but new technology developed by the University of Washington has the potential to catch lung cancer before it even develops.

Dori Lyon used to hike 60 miles a week.

"I felt wonderful and then they discovered this tumor," said Lyon.

The tumor was small and caught early. And her chance of a cure is very high. But Lyon is not the typical lung cancer patient.

"Unfortunately lung cancer is detected these days very late and very latest stages and the survival is not very high," said Dr. Thomas Neumann, Visiongate.

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Luckily for Lyon, her cancer was detected as part of a CT scanning trial for high risk patients, but it's not a cost-effective way to screen every smoker and former smoker.

So now comes new research from the University of Washington, leading to an early detection method using patient sputum. What's different is that the microscope is 3D.

"The cells are three-dimensional and small changes on the surface of the nucleus is one of the tell-tale signs of early cancer," said Dr. Eric Seibel, University of Washington.

This is what cells look like in 3-D.

"Normal cells usually show very well-defined, regular features. These cancer cells," said Seibel. "You see this really irregular shape."

"The advantage of a sputum test is that it's a simple thing that's easy to schedule, lower cost, and it also potentially picks up lung cancer that can't be picked up by CT screening because it evaluates the airways rather than just the lungs," said Ralph Aye, Swedish Medical Center.

Through the University of Washington technology transfer program, Visiongate of Gig Harbor is collaborating with UW researchers to teach the new technology how to recognize lung cancer cells.

"We are hoping that someday patients that are identified as pre-cancerous can be treated so the cancer doesn't even develop," said Aye.

The technology has had the potential to be used to detect other cancers, as well.