Researchers at University College London (UCL) have evaluated the use of molecular profiling to predict lung cancer by analysing precancerous lesions.
According to previous studies, only 50% of precancerous lesions in the airway develop into lung cancer, while the remaining disappear or remain benign.
The lesions appear similar under a microscope, making it difficult for doctors to plan treatments.
In the latest study, the researchers identified differences between the lesions that lead to cancer and those that are harmless by assessing their molecular profile.
They performed gene expression profiling, methylation profiling, and whole-genome DNA sequencing on 129 preinvasive lung cancer lesion biopsies obtained from 85 patients.
Furthermore, the patients were subjected to more than five years of follow-up after the biopsy.
Differences in genomic features such as mutations, gene expression and chromosomal instability were identified, paving the way for tests that could predict lesions that would become cancerous.
UCL Division of Medicine professor Sam Janes said: “Our study helps to understand the earliest stages of lung cancer development, by figuring out what’s going on inside these cells even before they become cancerous.
“Using this information, we may be able to develop screening tests, and new treatments that could stop cancer in its tracks.”
The researchers believe that the findings could enable early detection and treatment of patients.
They noted that certain genes expressed differently in lesions that will become cancerous were previously identified as potential drivers of lung cancer.
Study co-first author Dr Adam Pennycuick added: “If we can use this new understanding of cancer development to create new diagnostic tests, it may one day be invaluable in picking up cancer early, enabling people to access treatment much earlier in the disease process.”
Currently, the team is working to gain further insights into the role of these genes on cancer progression and their potential as drug targets.