Ligia Pinto

Scientists have identified 11 inflammation markers in the bloodstream that are associated with an increased risk of lung cancer.

Previous studies of inflammation markers have been on a smaller scale or involved fewer markers. The current study, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, examined 68 markers associated with various aspects of immunity and inflammation.

The research group from the National Cancer Institute’s Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics (DCEG) and the Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research (FNLCR) evaluated these markers in blood samples taken from 526 lung cancer patients several years before they were diagnosed with cancer, and 592 control subjects. The samples were taken as part of the prospective NCI Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, and Ovarian (PLCO) Cancer Screening Trial. Samples were tested at FNLCR’s Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) Immunology Laboratory using Luminex-based assays.

The 11 markers associated with a risk of lung cancer included several components of the inflammation response, including acute-phase proteins, cytokines and chemokines, which affect the behavior of other cells, and growth factors. The markers are produced by various cell types in addition to the immune and cancer cells.

These results are believed to be the first of their kind and call for additional studies for confirmation and follow-up. If the findings are confirmed, they may be useful in identifying individuals at highest risk for lung cancer. Such knowledge could help improve the effectiveness of prevention and screening strategies.

It was unclear whether the markers were among early risk factors for disease onset or a product of precursors of the disease. But the overall findings “provide preliminary evidence for the potential utility of inflammation markers in lung cancer risk stratification,” the group reported.

Pinto Lab Plays Important Role in Findings

Ligia Pinto, Ph.D., head of the HPV Immunology Laboratory and a co-author of the study, said her group has worked for several years with epidemiologists and statisticians at DCEG to establish associations between circulating immune and inflammatory markers and cancer risk, as part of a DCEG strategic initiative begun in 2008. The lab is involved in a number of studies evaluating the role of circulating inflammatory markers in the context of other cancers, such as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and ovarian, endometrial, and colon cancer.

Chronic inflammation and altered immunity are believed to be significant causal factors for several cancers, including malignancies of the lung, esophagus, stomach, gallbladder, liver, cervix, pancreas, colon and rectum, prostate, urinary bladder, and blood cells.

“This research is only one small piece of the puzzle,” Pinto said. “It contributes to the identification of systemic alterations prior to cancer diagnosis, but there is so much more that we need to do in order to be able to translate our findings clinically.

“In my opinion, there is an urgent need for a broader multidisciplinary, integrated strategic initiative involving data sharing and analysis from experimental and clinical studies. The goal will be to guide the next generation of studies, applying novel technologies and approaches to better understand the role of inflammation and cancer.”

Other members of the research team include last author on the paper (published in December 2013), Anil Chaturvedi, Ph.D., and first author Meredith Shiels, Ph.D., both of DCEG; and Troy Kemp, Ph.D., and Gloriana Shelton, both of FNLCR’s HPV Immunology Laboratory.