AURORA, Colo. — A young researcher at the University of Colorado Cancer Center believes she could find a simple, non-invasive test that would diagnose lung cancer in its very earliest stages or even while it’s still pre-cancerous.
Celine Mascaux, MD, PhD, a post-doctoral fellow at the CU Cancer Center, has identified several molecular changes in patients with the earliest stages of lung cancer. She also has found that these markers differ between smokers and non-smokers as well as between men and women. Most importantly, she has found biomarkers that indicate the presence of lesions at low risk of turning cancerous from those that were at high risk or were already invasive cancer.
Mascaux is now testing a much larger number of patients from the United States and Belgium to verify her findings. She hopes that she could find the same molecules in patients’ sputum or blood, which could lead to the development of a simple, non-invasive screening test to detect lung cancer in its earliest stages.
In recognition of her work, Mascaux was just named a winner of the prestigious National Lung Cancer Partnership Young Investigator Grant. Mascaux, 36, is one of just six young researchers worldwide to receive this award.
“This award will help bring attention to my work that will attract others to collaborate,” says Mascaux, who won an International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer Fellowship Award in 2009 to come to Colorado.
Lung cancer is the most deadly form of cancer, killing more people each year than breast, prostate and colon cancers combined. Currently, there are no general screenings that can detect lung cancer at its earliest stages. Lung cancer patients generally have only a 15 percent chance of surviving five years, compared with a 60 percent to 80 percent 5-year survival rate for patients whose cancers can be surgically removed at an early stage.
One of the biggest hurdles in finding an effective screening is to be able to distinguish cancer at early stages when it does not show symptoms and has a much greater chance to be cured. It’s also critical to have a screening that identifies the exact genetic mutation causing the lung cancer in order to provide the most effective treatment. Different mutations can cause lung cancer in different patients.
“It used to be that lung cancer was treated globally as either small cell lung cancer or non-small cell lung cancer,” Mascaux explains. “Now, we know there are many different types of lung cancer and it makes a big difference in how we treat it. Women, non-smokers and Asian patients with lung cancer, for example, tend to respond better to treatment inhibiting EGFR (a particular protein that causes some types of lung cancer).”
Mascaux expects to test enough patients within the next year to validate her findings, which would allow her to begin developing a screening test.
About the University of Colorado Cancer Center
The University of Colorado Cancer Center is Colorado’s only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center. NCI has given only 40 cancer centers this designation, deeming membership as “the best of the best.” Headquartered on the University of Colorado Denver Anschutz Medical Campus, the center is a consortium of three state universities (Colorado State University, University of Colorado at Boulder and University of Colorado Denver) and six institutions (The Children’s Hospital, Denver Health, Denver VA Medical Center, Kaiser Permanente Colorado, National Jewish Health and University of Colorado Hospital). Together, our 440+ members are working to ease the cancer burden through cancer care, research, education and prevention and control. Learn more at www.coloradocancercenter.org.
Contact: Lynn Clark, 303-724- [email protected]