Counting tumour cells can help predict lung cancer
Researchers at charity `Cancer Research UK` found that the new technique represents an improvement on a current diagnosis test that is invasive and can only be carried out once.
Work on the tumour cells could also lead to breakthroughs in understanding how the disease develops, they hoped.
Dr Lesley Walker, director of the charity, said: "Lung cancer is the leading cause of death. And we desperately need new treatments for the disease."
"To be able to detect and count these rare tumour cells circulating through the blood, and the link this has to the progress of the disease, opens an incredibly exciting new area of research," Walker was quoted as saying by the Daily Mail.
"We could now look at the genetic faults that are behind the disease and start to develop drugs that target these.
Lung cancer kills about 1.2 million people worldwide every year and it`s survival rates are very low as most of the patients are diagnosed at a late stage when curative treatment is not possible.
According to the World Health Organisation, more than 80 per cent of lung cancers are caused by smoking, while less than 15 per cent of people diagnosed with the disease survive longer than five years.
Until now, diagnosis of the disease has been made through a one-of procedure called a bronchoscopy in which tissue is taken from the airways with a needle.
For the new study, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, the British researchers looked at the number of circulating tumour cells, or CTCs in blood samples of 101 patients with a type of the disease, called non small cell lung cancer, before and after they had undergone one cycle of chemotherapy.
The team found that patients who had five or more CTCs were much less likely to survive the disease.
They believe that by counting CTCs, doctors will be able to monitor how well patients are responding to chemotherapy soon after starting it and so move them on to different treatments if the number of cells rises.
Dr Fiona Blackhall, co-author and lung cancer clinician at The Christie cancer centre in Manchester, said: "Our research shows a new way to monitor how a patient`s lung cancer is responding to treatment and determine how aggressive it is.
"We now need to test our findings in more patients but, if our results are confirmed, there is now the potential to tailor treatments to individual patients and find new ways to treat the disease.