New system for staging lung cancer

15 Feb 2008 by under News, Research/Treatment

As I was browsing some of the online news sites today, I came across an article on that was originally posted Aug. 31, 2007, attributed to The Associated Press. It talks about a new system of classifying tumors in lung cancer cases that can help more people get access to aggressive therapy who might otherwise have been ruled out, and also to help prevent those who aggressive treatment wouldn’t particularly help avoid the stress of ineffective and physically draining treatment.

The new system was developed by the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer. I’m putting a link to the group in my blogroll, but it’s mainly full of professional development opportunities for doctors. But if you’re interested, it’s there.

Basically, the old system of “staging” a tumor (based on tumor size, how much it has spread, etc.) was developed from examining about 5,000 tumor samples gathered from the University of M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, in Houston, DECADES ago. The new plan is based on 100,000 tumor samples from around the world, including Asia (predicted by, particularly Japan, to see increases in cases of Mesothelioma due to the heavy use of asbestos there in the 1970s).

Doctors predict that the expansion of tumors for study and comparison will greatly increase understanding of tumor characteristics and allow them to better identify specific stages of tumor development beyond the four basic groupings (which will remain in place). They estimate that as a result as many as 10,000 patients a year in the United States will be shifted from inoperable to operable classifcations!

Changing some groupings, like creating more sub-stages for tumor size, reclassifying tumors that have spread into the fluid surrounding the lung, recognizing that spread to certain lymph nodes is more dangerous than its spread to others, and additional factors will let patients be classified at an earlier stage, where they can be recommended for more aggressive treatments.

Right now, only about 20 percent of cases are diagnosed in stages 1 or 2.

The article quotes Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer of the , who says that staging for lung and other types of cancer should become even more precise in the near future, as biomarkers and gene tests are developed that will even better sort patients.

Expanding the base of study from 5,000 samples limited to the U.S. – and one cancer center in the U.S. – to a base of 100,000 samples that includes international elements has to be good for the future of treatment. Just think how much more doctors can learn, and how much more variety they will be able to access to help them make a more accurate diagnosis!

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