Presence of a blood protein might help physicians decide whether smokers or others at high risk for lung cancer should be referred for lung imaging, according to a presentation at the second International Conference on Molecular Diagnostics in Cancer Therapeutic Development in Atlanta.

"A positive test for this protein marker, followed by CT scanning, may help identify individuals with lung cancer at a stage in which treatment is more effective, possibly even curative," says Mark Semenuk, PhD, of Panacea Pharmaceuticals Inc, Gaithersburg, Md.

Currently, there are no approved blood tests available to help detect lung cancer. By the time the usual testing methods—CT scanning or chest x-rays—are performed on symptomatic patients, the disease is usually well advanced.

The protein targeted in the blood test is Human Aspartyl (Asparaginyl) β-Hydroxylase (HAAH), which Panacea researchers say is abnormally expressed on the surface of cancer cells, compared to normal cells. HAAH is also found in the serum of individuals with cancer.

In a group of 50 smokers not diagnosed with cancer, four patients had levels of HAAH that were higher than the projected "cut-off" line established between cancer development and no disease. It is not known if these four people did eventually develop lung cancer.

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