Methylated Cell-Free Tumor DNA in Sputum as a Tool for Diagnosing Lung Cancer: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

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Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related mortality worldwide. Early diagnosis is pivotal for the prognosis. There is a notable overlap between lung cancer and chronic bronchitis, and the potential use of methylated tumor DNA in sputum as a biomarker for lung cancer detection is appealing. This systematic review and meta-analysis followed the PRISMA 2020 statement. A comprehensive search was conducted in Embase, Medline, Web of Science, and the Cochrane Library, using these search strings: Lung cancer, sputum, and methylated tumor DNA. A total of 15 studies met the eligibility criteria. Studies predominantly utilized a case–control design, with sensitivity ranging from 10 to 93% and specificity from 8 to 100%. A meta-analysis of all genes across studies resulted in a summary sensitivity of 54.3% (95% CI 49.4–59.2%) and specificity of 79.7% (95% CI 75.0–83.7%). Notably, two less explored genes (TAC1, SOX17) demonstrated sensitivity levels surpassing 85%. The study’s findings highlight substantial variations in the sensitivity and specificity of methylated tumor DNA in sputum for lung cancer detection. Challenges in reproducibility could stem from differences in tumor site, sample acquisition, extraction methods, and methylation measurement techniques. This meta-analysis provides a foundation for prioritizing high-performing genes, calling for a standardization and refinement of methodologies before potential application in clinical trials.

Original languageEnglish
Article number506
Issue number3
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2024

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© 2024 by the authors.


  • DNA methylation
  • liquid biopsy
  • lung cancer
  • sputum
  • tumor DNA


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