Lung cancer is the leading cancer killer in the United States, claiming an estimated 158,000 lives annually. Like many other forms of the disease, early detection is critical for increasing the odds of survival. Unfortunately, arriving at an early diagnosis isn’t always easy and it often results in unnecessary, invasive and potentially risky procedures for patients who are at higher risk for the disease.
Enter Avrum Spira’s new testing procedure Percepta. Spira, a School of Medicine professor, and his colleagues Jerome Brody and Marc Lenburg, have developed a molecular test that enables the detection of lung cancer sooner in ex- and current smokers while potentially ruling out the need for invasive biopsies when other screening procedures are inconclusive. Percepta works by enabling doctors to take a small brush sample of cells in the upper airway while they are performing a bronchoscopy, which is another standard detection testing procedure. The brush samples are then sent to a lab for genetic testing to look for 23 different markers that may indicate the presence of cancer cells deep inside the lungs. If these markers are present, more testing is indicated. If they are not, patients may be spared from undergoing further testing.
While Percepta isn’t wisely available for use as of yet, nor is the procedure covered by insurance, it has fared well in clinical trials. The Percepta test when used with bronchoscopy has shown itself very effective in identifying lung cancer. Two clinical trials involving 639 patients across the United States, Ireland and Canada revealed very promising results. The test identified 97 percent of lung cancers compared to 75 percent for bronchoscopy procedures alone.
Further testing is under way to help bring Percepta to a more widespread audience. In the meantime, those who are at high risk for lung cancer are urged to discuss the subject with their doctors. Early detection is critical for increasing survival rates.