Recent screening trials indicate that low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) reduces lung-cancer mortality in high risk subjects. However, high false positive rates, costs and potential harms highlight the need for complementary biomarkers. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are tissue and disease specific molecules, actively released by cells in the circulatory system, which are associated with protein complexes and/or packaged in exosomes and microvesicles. Circulating miRNAs are rather stable and easily detectable in body fluids suggesting the possibility of using miRNAs as a new promising class of biomarkers.

Sensitivity, specificity, positive and negative predictive values (PPV and NPV, respectively) of a non-invasive plasma miRNA signature classifier (MSC) to identify lung cancer occurrence and mortality was retrospectively evaluated in samples prospectively collected from smokers within the randomized Multicentre Italian Lung Detection (MILD) trial. Plasma samples from 939 subjects including 69 lung cancer patients and 870 disease-free individuals were analyzed using a Real-Time quantitative PCR (qRT-PCR) based assay for MSC. Combined sensitivity and specificity of plasma MSC and LDCT were assessed in a blinded validation study.

MSC correctly identified patients with lung cancer at 87% sensitivity, 81% specificity, and 99% NPV, and 18 of 19 lung cancer deaths at 95% sensitivity 81% specificity, and 99.86% NPV. MSC identified 43 of 49 (88%) LDCT-detected cancers, 8 of 9 (89%) interval cancers in the LDCT arm, and 9 of 11 (82%) cancers in the observational arm. Diagnostic performance of MSC was confirmed by time dependency analysis. MSC fell to negative after lung cancer resection in 16 of 22 evaluable subjects. In lung cancer patients, there was a trend in mortality across levels of MSC (p=0.0336) and survival rate significantly differed according to MSC in all subjects (X21=49.53, p<0.0001). Combination of MSC and LDCT resulted in a 5-fold reduction of LDCT false positive rate.

This large validation study highlights the clinical diagnostic and prognostic value of plasma MSC for lung cancer screening in high-risk populations. The combined use of LDCT and MSC could reduce the false positive rate of LDCT improving the efficacy of lung cancer screening.

Citation Format: Mattia Boeri, Carla Verri, Gabriella Sozzi, Luca Roz, Davide Conte, Paola Suatoni, Alfonso Marchiano, Carlo La Vecchia, Marta Rossi, Francesca Bravi, Eva Negri, Nicola Sverzellati, Ugo Pastorino. Clinical utility of a plasma microRNA biomarker within lung cancer screening. [abstract]. In: Proceedings of the 105th Annual Meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research; 2014 Apr 5-9; San Diego, CA. Philadelphia (PA): AACR; Cancer Res 2014;74(19 Suppl):Abstract nr 871. doi:10.1158/1538-7445.AM2014-871