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A blood test to help detect lung cancer? New test offered at OSF Healthcare part of trend in medicine

Lisa Schencker, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Health & Fitness

CHICAGO — Julie Harris had never been tested for lung cancer. A low-dose CT scan, the only recommended screening for adults at risk of developing lung cancer, was not something she’d ever found time to do.

But when her primary care doctor recently suggested a new blood test to help look for signs of the disease, Harris was intrigued. She had her blood drawn the same day, in the same building as her doctor’s appointment.

“It was something that was accessible at the moment, so it was like, ‘Sure, let’s go ahead and do that and see how the results are,’” said Harris, 67, of Pekin. Harris, who is a longtime smoker, said if the results are positive, she’ll get a low-dose CT scan next to screen for the disease.

“Science just keeps moving forward,” she said.

Harris is among the first group of patients in Illinois to get the blood test as part of a pilot program at health system OSF HealthCare, which is offering the test at 18 locations. OSF leaders hope the blood test will improve early detection of lung cancer, which kills more people in the U.S. than any other single type of cancer.

OSF’s adoption of the blood test is part of a growing movement in medicine to use less invasive screenings to look for signs of cancer in patients, especially patients who may be reluctant to undergo more traditional, involved tests. A number of blood tests to help detect various types of cancer are now in development, according to the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Some health systems, such as OSF, are starting to offer the blood tests to patients, while others are waiting with cautious optimism for more long-term data on the tests.

 

“This is the future,” said Dr. Jared Meeker, a pulmonologist at OSF, said of the new blood test.

The blood test being used at OSF is not meant to replace a low-dose CT scan, which involves lying on a table that slides in and out of a type of X-ray machine.

The FirstLook Lung blood test, developed by Delfi Diagnostics, based in California and Maryland, cannot diagnose lung cancer. But doctors hope that patients who might not want a CT scan – perhaps because it would require too much time, travel or effort – will consent to undergoing the blood test. If the blood test comes back positive, indicating a possibility of lung cancer, OSF leaders hope patients will then be more likely to agree to a low-dose CT scan.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that people at higher risk of developing lung cancer get low-dose CT scans annually. Higher-risk patients are those who are between the ages of 50 and 80 who have been moderate to heavy smokers, who are current smokers or who quit within the past 15 years. But only about 4.5% of those people actually got low-dose CT scans in 2022, according to an American Lung Association report.

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