Advances in the understanding of lung cancer biology have led to observations that specific genetic changes occur in premalignant dysplasia. These observations have occurred predominantly in molecular studies of resected lung tumors and consequently, they may not be fully representative of those biological abnormalities characterizing premalignant lesions in individuals without overt lung cancer. Studies of premalignant epithelial cell biology and chemoprevention are needed in this patient subgroup. Such an initiative is now underway through the lung cancer Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE) grant awarded to the University of Colorado Cancer Center (and affiliated institutions) by the National Cancer Institute. To identify participants for the early detection and chemoprevention trials of the Colorado SPORE, we initiated a sputum cytology screening program targeting persons with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and smoking histories of 40 or more packyears. During the first 26 months after activation of the screening program, sputum samples from 632 participants were evaluated. Of these, 533 (84%) of the subjects submitted specimens deemed adequate for cytopathological interpretation; 99 (16%) provided sputum samples unsuitable for cytodiagnosis. Of those participants who submitted adequate samples, 48% had cytodiagnoses of mild dysplasia, 26% had moderate to severe dysplasia, and 2% presented with carcinoma in situ or invasive carcinoma. Logistic regression modeling was pursued to determine whether selected demographic and/or clinical status variables could be identified as statistically significant predictors of the specific cytological outcome to be expected (mild dysplasia, moderate dysplasia, and so forth). The only apparent associations found from both univariate and multivariate analyses were that the total number of pack-years of smoking history decreased with severity of cytodiagnosis and that those individuals with mild or moderate dysplasia were more likely to be ex-smokers than those with grades of regular metaplasia or lower. Based on the initial results of the Colorado SPORE sputum cytology screening program, we conclude that persons with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and 40 or more pack-years of smoking history have a high prevalence of premalignant dysplasia detectable through sputum cytology and should be targeted for research programs focusing on lung cancer prevention, early detection, and exploratory biomarker studies.


Supported by National Grant No. P50 CA58187. All authors are either faculty or affiliated researchers of the University of Colorado Cancer Center, University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, Denver, CO 80209. Colorado SPORE pathologists: W. A. F. (quality control reviewer), T. A. M., G. S. (quality control adviser), M. E. C., D. L. M., and K. E. S.

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