Channel NewsAsia

New lung cancer screening test can detect gene mutation

With the new cobas Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor test, doctors at some public hospitals are now able to detect the presence of gene mutations.

SINGAPORE: Non-small cell lung cancer is the most common form of lung cancer, accounting for about 90 per cent of cases.

About half of non-small cell lung cancer is linked to a genetic epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) mutation - affecting mostly female non-smokers.

It causes cells to grow uncontrollably, and to be resistant to conventional cancer treatments like chemotherapy.

In Singapore, there were about 6,400 cases of lung cancer diagnosed between 2008 and 2012.

It is also the top killer cancer in Singapore. It is the second most common cancer among men and the third most common cancer among women.

But with the new test -- the cobas Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor test -- doctors at some public hospitals are now able to detect the presence of mutations.

The public hospitals are Tan Tock Seng Hospital, Khoo Teck Puat Hospital and the Ng Teng Fong General Hospital.

A small slice of tumour tissue from a non-small cell lung cancer patient is tested.

DNA is isolated from a patient's tumour cells. It is then mixed with reagents that detect the mutated gene. This reaction is then measured to confirm the mutation. This will allow the doctor to customise treatment for the patient.

Dr Brendan Pang, consultant at the Department of Pathology in National University Hospital, explained: "The test is more sensitive and will pick up EGFR mutations from tissue samples that contain fewer tumour cells than is currently acceptable when direct sequencing is used.

"Therefore we might detect additional patients harbouring EGFR mutations in more challenging samples and therefore they will be put on a correct treatment rather than be given conventional chemotherapy."

Test results can also be obtained on the same day or the next compared to the current three to five working days.

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