Researchers have identified 15 cancer-predicting genes that may be getting suppressed by other factors in the cell, a step that may lead to cancer.

In a study of 49 subjects, a team led by James C. Willey, MD, associate professor of medicine and molecular biology at the University of Toledo’s College of Medicine, was able to correctly identify the individuals with cancer 96% of the time.

“Smoking causes about 90% of all lung cancer cases, yet only about 10% to 15% of heavy smokers will develop lung cancer,” said Willey.

While devices such as coaxial tomography (HRCT) enable early detection of lung cancer, scanning all present or former heavy smokers is impractical since 85% to 90% of them are at low risk of developing the disease despite smoking history. A screen to identify that elusive 10% to 15% of high risk individuals should increase the accuracy of further HRCT screening.

To determine which genes are active in lung cancer, the researchers measured transcript abundance (TA) of 15 genes that encode protective antioxidant and DNA repair proteins in lung airway cells from 25 lung cancer patients and 24 people without the disease.

If the sum total of a subject’s target genes was greater than or equal to seven, the genes could collectively serve as a biomarker for lung cancer. Results yielded one false negative and seven false positives among the 49 individuals assessed.

A positive result in a subject without lung cancer may not actually be false positive, Willey said, but rather could mean that the person is at an increased risk for lung cancer at a later point in time.

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