New research may have found a way of screening low risk patients for lung cancer, a way that is less costly and less invasive. This procedure is said to be able detect if lung lesions are malignant. Lung lesions (also known as solitary pulmonary nodules) are little growths that are detected on the lungs, usually when the patient has an x-ray for other health related reasons. More often than not, these growths are benign, but cancer is naturally a real concern. In fact, it is thought that in as many as 95% of cases, these lesions are found to be benign. To determine this, many patients undergo invasive surgery to achieve a biopsy on the lung. This new research shows there is a method that can find the answer with a simple nasal swab.
Scientists examined nasal epithelial brushings of patients that were have lung lesions assessed. They examined patients that have formerly been or are currently smokers. The nasal epithelium is made up of a complex layer of cellular tissue that protects and encloses the nasal cavity. The research showed cancer related gene expressions were altered the same way across the two airway sites. This suggests that the nasal airway epithelial field in smokers extends to the nose therefore the brushings could be a lung cancer bio marker. Simply put, a cancer associated airway field that can be measured in the nasal epithelium can provide information about the presence of cancer. This could allow professionals to rule out cancer early on without the need for invasive surgery, just by testing for molecular changes in this field of injury. At present this is a research tool only and is not in mainstream clinical practice although with further research the technique could be introduced into patient care to speed up the diagnosis of lung cancer in a relatively non-invasive way.