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Gregory J. Riely, MD, PhD


DNA Methylation: Researchers in Search of a Better Way to Screen for Lung Cancer

By: Lauren Velentzas
Posted: Thursday, March 21, 2024

Using data from the National Lung Screening Trial, Dominique Michaud, ScD, of Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston, and colleagues at collaborating institutions are on quest to develop an improved predictor of lung cancer to detect the disease earlier and more accurately, even in those without a smoking history. To assist them on this quest, they have received a $2.5 million, 4-year grant from the National Institutes of Health. The current standard for lung screening (low-dose CT scans) is expensive and may lead to false-positive or false-negative results, and it exposes patients to radiation.

The researchers are focusing on blood leukocytes to measure DNA methylation levels in blood tests. This array looks at about 850,000 genomic sites for changes that promote cancer growth or inhibit tumor suppression. Their findings confirmed results from previous research, which identified areas of differentiation between people who developed lung cancer and who did not and discovered new areas of differentiation.

“These regions have been shown to better predict mortality from lung cancer than smoking,” said Dr. Michaud in a Tufts University press release. “We want to develop a prescreening tool that would accurately classify people we already know are at high risk into additional risk categories based on their level of methylation.”

The researchers also intend to continue to investigate whether differences in DNA methylation markers can help determine which results are accurate and which are false-positive findings. If they are successful, their study findings may result in changes to screening guidelines. The current screening guidelines, put forward by the American Cancer Society in November 2023, recommend yearly low-dose CT scans for patients with a 20-pack-year history of cigarette smoking, whether ongoing or not, who are between the ages of 50 and 80.

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