Purpose: There is a critical need for improvements in the noninvasive diagnosis of lung cancer. We hypothesized that matrix-assisted laser desorption ionization mass spectrometry (MALDI MS) analysis of the most abundant peptides in the serum may distinguish lung cancer cases from matched controls.
Patients and methods: We used MALDI MS to analyze unfractionated serum from a total of 288 cases and matched controls split into training (n = 182) and test sets (n = 106). We used a training-testing paradigm with application of the model profile defined in a training set to a blinded test cohort.
Results: Reproducibility and lack of analytical bias was confirmed in quality-control studies. A serum proteomic signature of seven features in the training set reached an overall accuracy of 78%, a sensitivity of 67.4%, and a specificity of 88.9%. In the blinded test set, this signature reached an overall accuracy of 72.6 %, a sensitivity of 58%, and a specificity of 85.7%. The serum signature was associated with the diagnosis of lung cancer independently of gender, smoking status, smoking pack-years, and C-reactive protein levels. From this signature, we identified three discriminatory features as members of a cluster of truncated forms of serum amyloid A.
Conclusions: We found a serum proteomic profile that discriminates lung cancer from matched controls. Proteomic analysis of unfractionated serum may have a role in the noninvasive diagnosis of lung cancer and will require methodological refinements and prospective validation to achieve clinical utility.