In a recent article on lung cancer screening, I mentioned the use of biomarkers in the overall screening process. This portion of the article has prompted a number of questions about the use of these markers and how they are helpful.

Annual screening for lung cancer was first advise in 2013 but it was not until 2015 that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services approved coverage for beneficiaries. The benefit of annual screening is a reduction in the mortality due to lung cancer of 20% which is a substantial figure. Screening is accomplished by having high risk patients get an annual cat scan of the chest. This technique not only finds early lung cancers but, because it is a very sensitive technique, it often finds lumps and bumps (nodules) that have nothing to due with cancer. Unfortunately, this cannot be determined by the cat scan alone and other studies, some of which have risks, need to be done to be certain we are or are not dealing with a cancer. Finding a less dangerous and less invasive way of determining the risk of a cancer is needed since it is estimated that 4,000 nodules of indeterminate cause are found every day in the US alone.

There are a number of biomarker tests on the market to help doctors advise you about the correct approach to your findings. We are using some in the office now and they have been helpful in some cases but more needs to be done.