BU Researchers May Have Found a Simple Way to Diagnose Lung Cancer

A nasal swab could detect cancerous lung lesions.
Chest x-ray

Photo via istock.com/peefay

A research development from the Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) could someday revolutionize the way we diagnose lung cancer.

In a study published Monday in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, BUSM researchers describe a non-invasive test that they believe could detect cancerous lung lesions. A simple nasal swab, they write, could pinpoint a genomic biomarker that accurately predicts the presence of lung cancer.

“We find that nasal gene expression contains information about the presence of cancer that is independent of standard clinical risk factors, suggesting that nasal epithelial gene expression might aid in lung cancer detection,” co-senior author Marc Lenburg explained in a statement.

Currently, patients who may be suffering from lung cancer must undergo expensive, sometimes invasive procedures—such as CT scans and lung biopsies—to receive a diagnosis. As such, “There is a clear and growing need to develop additional diagnostic approaches for evaluating pulmonary lesions,” corresponding author Avrum Spira said in the statement.

A quick and easy test, such as the nasal swab, could prevent some patients from undergoing unnecessary medical care, and spare them the anxiety and stress that come from risky procedures and potential false positives. It’s even a step up from previous BUSM work, which found a similar biomarker in the bronchia. The nose, however, is easier to access, making it a more promising diagnostic tool.

Still, it’s as yet unclear when the test may make its way to the clinic.

Spira and Lenburg disclosed funding, some gained during this research and some not, from molecular diagnostics company Veracyte, Inc., which acquired lung cancer diagnostics company Allegro Diagnostics in 2014. Spira also has a patent related to lung cancer diagnostics licensed to Allegro.


Jamie Ducharme Jamie Ducharme, Contributor jducharme@bostonmagazine.com