Jennifer Martin was a smoker for more than three decades, before she finally quit. Now, she is hoping to learn if that habit, coupled with her genes, has increased her risk for cancer.
"I fit the profile, but wasn't interested until my father just passed away of lung and brain cancer," says Martin.
As part of a clinical trial doctors at El Camino Hospital in Mountain View, used a CT scan to examine Martin's lungs. But before getting that CT, patients in the study were also given another test examining their DNA.
"This genetic test has identified 20 gene markers that confer some risk for developing lung cancer," says Elwyn Cabebe, M.D., from Valley Medical Oncology Consultants.
Cabebe is studying the genetic markers, in the hopes of developing a test to help identify patients at the highest risk for lung cancer.
"I think the idea is we can't screen all 50 million Americans with CT scans. We really need to identify those patients who are really and truly at risk of dying from lung cancer," says Cabebe.
The trial comes on the heels of a highly publicized study funded by the National Cancer Institute. In that study, CT scans used for screening helped reduce lung cancer deaths by 20 percent in the time period study compared to traditional chest x-rays.
That study prompted calls to make low dose CT screening routine for high risk patients. But critics point out the CT scans also produce high rates of false positives -- up to 70 percent in some previous studies, detecting problems that aren't really there. Those false positives often lead to expensive follow up tests in patients who don't need them.
Given that expense, Cabebe believes being able to identify truly high-risk patients could make CT screening for lung cancer far more practical.
"I think if we can fine tune that population by introducing this genetic test will allow to really identify those patients who have concerning findings on CT that need investigated," says Cabebe.
The DNA is gathered by a simple swab of the cheek. Those results are then combined with behavior and other risk factors to determine a final score. Jennifer is hoping the information will help her protect herself against lung cancer.
"I'm going in next week for the results of the CT scan so I'm looking forward to that," says Martin.
The study is known as the REACT Trial. It's open to current and former smokers over the age of 50 who meet certain criteria.
Clinical Trials Coordinator
El Camino Cancer Center
1 (650) 988-7623
Written and produced by Tim Didion