Sputum Cytology and Advanced Sputum Analysis Techniques

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In screening studies, the sensitivity of sputum cytology for detecting lung cancer is approximately 20 to 30% and the specificity is approximately 98% [6,47,53]. Improvement in sensitivity can be achieved by adherence to proper techniques for collection, processing, and interpretation of samples [48]. Sputum cytology demonstrates the highest sensitivity for squamous cell carcinoma and the lowest yield for adenocarcinoma [21].

In recent years, there have been several exciting advances in sputum analysis techniques, most notably the development of automated analysis of sputum specimens for biomarkers [49,50-56]. This technology capitalizes on advances in our understanding of the molecular events that lead to lung cancer. In the future, it is likely that a panel of biomarkers (Table 4) will be used to identify the early clonal phase of lung cancer, thus allowing detection of lung cancers at a very early stage [52]. Importantly, biomarker characterization may also allow for targeted treatment of early lung cancer [52].

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