Patients with stage I to stage III non-small cell lung cancer have different metabolite profiles in their blood than those of patients who are at risk for but do not have lung cancer, according to a new study presented at CHEST 2014, the annual meeting of the American College of Chest Physicians, in Austin, Texas.

Researchers at Cleveland Clinic studied the blood serum of 284 subjects, 48% of whom were female with a mean age of 68 years. The subjects had adenocarcinoma or squamous cell lung cancer: 44% of those at stage I, 17% at stage II, and 39% at stage III. A control group of 194 patients, who matched the cancer patients in age, gender, smoking history, COPD, diabetes, and blood lipids, were at risk for lung cancer but did not have the disease.

The researchers divided the samples in two and analyzed them both by ultraperformance liquid chromatography tandem mass-spectrometry (UPLC-MS/MS) and by gas chromatography mass spectrometry (GC-MS).

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The researchers identified 534 metabolites, and they found that the concentration of 149 metabolites differing significantly between the cancer and control groups, with 70 lower and 79 higher in concentration in the cancer group.  The researchers found reductions in phenolic compounds, elevated trans-sulfuration pathway activity, and elevations of fatty acids.

They tested a model with 36 metabolites and found it had a sensitivity of 70.2% and specificity of 89.5% for distinguishing lung cancer from control samples.

“Our study results showed that patients with lung cancer have altered metabolic processes,” said Peter J. Mazzone, MD, FCCP, director of the Lung Cancer Program for the Respiratory Institute at Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. “This information could lead to the development of a diagnostic biomarker for early detection of lung cancer.”