Sputum long non-coding RNA biomarkers for diagnosis of lung cancer

Cancer Biomark. 2019;26(2):219-227. doi: 10.3233/CBM-190161.


Background: Analysis of molecular changes in sputum may help diagnose lung cancer. Long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs) play vital roles in various biological processes, and their dysregulations contribute to the development and progression of lung tumorigenesis. Herein, we determine whether aberrant lncRNAs could be used as potential sputum biomarkers for lung cancer.

Methods: Using reverse transcription PCR, we measure expressions of lung cancer-associated lncRNAs in sputum of a discovery cohort of 67 lung cancer patients and 65 cancer-free smokers with benign diseases and a validation cohort of 59 lung cancer patients and 60 cancer-free smokers with benign diseases.

Results: In the discovery cohort, four of the lncRNAs displayed a significantly different level in sputum of lung cancer patients vs.cancer-free smokers with benign diseases (all P< 0.001). From the four lncRNAs, three lncRNAs (SNHG1, H19, and HOTAIR) are identified as a biomarker panel, producing 82.09% sensitivity and 89.23% specificity for diagnosis of lung cancer. Furthermore, the biomarker panel has a higher sensitivity (82.09% vs. 52.24%, P= 0.02) and a similar specificity compared with sputum cytology (89.23% vs. 90.77%, P= 0.45). In addition, the lncRNA biomarker panel had a higher sensitivity (87.50% vs. 70.07%, p= 0.03) for diagnosis of squamous cell carcinoma compared with adenocarcinoma of the lung, while maintaining the same specificity (89.23%). The potential of the sputum lncRNA biomarkers for lung cancer detection is confirmed in the validation cohort.

Conclusion: We have for the first time shown that the analysis of lncRNAs in sputum might be a noninvasive approach for diagnosis of lung cancer.

Keywords: Diagnosis; biomarkers; lncRNA; lung cancer; sputum.

MeSH terms

  • Adenocarcinoma of Lung / diagnosis*
  • Adenocarcinoma of Lung / genetics
  • Aged
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / genetics*
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / diagnosis*
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / genetics
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / diagnosis*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / genetics
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Lung Neoplasms / genetics
  • Male
  • Prognosis
  • RNA, Long Noncoding / genetics*
  • Sputum / chemistry*


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • RNA, Long Noncoding