Feb. 13 (UPI) -- A new method may be on the way to help doctors identify lung cancer sooner, a study says.
Researchers used a CT scan and blood test to detect how many cancer cells DNA molecules would shed inside of the lungs of lab mice, according to a study published Tuesday in Disease Models and Mechanisms.
The method also spotted tumors in the lungs before they turn cancerous, according to the study.
"This observation is exciting because it suggests that tumor-causing mutations may be detectable in circulating DNA from patients with early-stage cancers or with pre-cancerous tumors," Miguel Martins, a program leader at the Medical Research Council Toxicology Unit and study lead author, said in news release.
The researchers linked the amount of DNA circulating in the lungs of the mice to the size of tumors in the same location.
"This will give us a better idea of whether circulating DNA has potential use for early cancer detection in patients," Martins said.
Lung cancer deaths are responsible for 25 percent of all cancer deaths, according to the American Lung Association. In 2018, the disease killed more than 150,000 people in the United States. The disease often goes undetected in its early stages, allowing it to spread more easily to other parts of the body.
In fact, the five-year survival rate for lung cancer is 18.6 percent, far below other cancer survival rates.
"This is a really promising piece of early-stage research. Lung cancer is incredibly difficult to diagnose at the stage where it can be successfully treated, leading to a poor rate of survival," said Mariana Delfino-Machin, Program Manager for Cancer at the MRC.
"Developing early detection strategies to improve survival rates is key, and if this can be achieved using only a blood sample it would greatly benefit patients and the NHS. We look forward to the results of the next stages of this research," she said.