A simple blood test to detect lung cancer

A headshot of Dr Wishart
Dr David Wishart 

A new project funded by the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) could transform how lung cancer is detected and help save lives.

Lung cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer and the leading cause of cancer death in Canada. When lung cancer is detected and treated early, the chances of survival are significantly higher. While about half of all lung cancer cases are most likely to be diagnosed at stage 4, at which the 3-year survival rate is only 5%, 3-year survival rises to 71% when lung cancers are diagnosed at stage 1. However, the current methods for lung cancer screening are expensive, not available to everyone and could lead to side effects. 

To make lung cancer screening safer and more accessible, a team of researchers led by Dr David Wishart is developing a low cost, fast and easy-to-use blood test that can accurately detect early stage lung cancer. The test, also known as a liquid biopsy, looks for and measures lung cancer-specific metabolites, or chemicals, in blood.

“Currently those with lung cancer are most often diagnosed in the later stages, usually stage 3 or 4, when treatment outcomes are poor,” says Dr Wishart. “If lung cancer is detected early, then treatment outcomes improve enormously. We hope this study will clearly identify people with stage I lung cancer using a simple, low-cost blood test.”

This project is 1 of 27 innovative ideas funded by Spark Grants, a joint $4 million research initiative from CCS and its partners, Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and Brain Canada. The goal is to apply cutting-edge technologies like artificial intelligence, smart and wearable devices, and robotics to address key challenges in cancer prevention and early detection.

“What excites me about my current research is that we are coming up with a whole variety of novel, cheap and easy ways to detect early-stage cancer using only metabolites found in blood or urine,” says Dr Wishart. “This opens the door to earlier detection and better outcomes for people with cancer.”

With funding from CCS donors, researchers like Dr Wishart are working to develop improved detection strategies for all types of cancer. You can fund some of Canada’s brightest researchers by purchasing a Gift of Discovery.