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Health: Local Researchers Developing Lung Cancer Blood Test

By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- A quick and easy way to find early stage lung cancer. It could save thousands of live. 3 On Your Side Health Reporter Stephanie Stahl says researchers here in Philadelphia are getting close to making that dream a reality.

Julie Keppel, a Newark, Delaware grandmother, found out she had lung cancer by accident.

"It was devastating. I think anyone who hears cancer as a diagnosis immediately goes into panic mode and assumes the worst," said Julie.

Lung cancer is so deadly because it's usually found late. There are no symptoms, and no routine screenings.

Louise Showe, a researcher at the Wistar Institute, is working to change the future of lung cancer. She's perfecting a blood test that detects early stage cancer by analyzing genetic activity in the blood.

"We developed a panel of 29 genes--some of which are up, some of which are down--in lung cancer patients versus people who don't have lung cancer," said Showe.

Now her research is focused on simplifying the blood test and making sure it's able to more accurately identify people who don't have lung cancer.

"A test like this could be a first screen to determine whether someone has lung cancer, then could actually go on to the next level of examination," said Showe.

"It's wonderful, and I really hope it works," said Julie.

The lung cancer blood test would mean there would be more patients, like Julie, who survive.

"It was just a random chance that I happened to be in the right place at the right time," said Julie.

She got lucky, when she signed up for a study offering free CT scans at Christiana Care. Being a former smoker she was worried, even though she had no symptoms.

But scans aren't routine, which is why a simple blood test would be such an important breakthrough.

"I'm assuming that catching lung cancer early through a blood test like that would also lead to more people to have longer, more productive lives," said Julie.

The blood test is still experimental, and researchers need more samples from lung cancer patients. The Wistar Institute gets their blood samples from the University of Pennsylvania, NYU, and soon the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center at Christiana Care in Delaware.

For more info on the Wistar Institute's research, click here.

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