Blood test offers hope of detecting cancers before symptoms develop

Grant Boone
June 3, 2018

Scientists are "one step closer" to being able to detect lung cancer early using just a blood test, experts have said.

"Far too many cancers are picked up too late, when it is no longer possible to operate and the chances of survival are slim", said Prof Nicholas Turner from the Institute of Cancer Research in London, according to The Guardian.

In a race for detecting, treating or curing cancer, researchers keep on discovering new ways to fight the disease that kills many people around the globe.

The test, referred to as a "liquid biopsy", looks for small pieces of DNA that are released from cancer cells into the blood.

The authors, led by Cleveland Clinic in OH, will present their findings at the annual conference of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago, and hope the test could be available within five to 10 years for healthy people who are cancer-free. Of them, 878 people had been newly diagnosed with a disease, and 749 people were cancer-free without any diagnosis.

The test is being hailed as the "holy grail of cancer research" after a trial of about 1,600 people found it could identify DNA markers with up to 90% accuracy.

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Nonetheless, liquid biopsies could "dramatically reshape the way that care for cancer and other inherited diseases is delivered", says The Independent.

The results showed that the test most accurately diagnosed ovarian cancer, with 90% accuracy, followed by hepatobiliary - a highly lethal cancer that attacks the liver and gallbladder - and pancreatic cancer, with 80% accuracy.

Dr Eric Klein told The Telegraph that the new test could help doctors "find cancers that are now hard to cure and at an earlier stage when they are easier to cure".

Researchers also found that more than half of patients in the study had mutations in their blood that came from white blood cells, and not tumors, requiring them to develop a method to screen those out to prevent false positives. As for cancers of the head and neck, or lung cancer, the detection rate was only 56% and 59%.

More than 360,000 people in the United Kingdom are diagnosed with cancer each year, meaning that one person is told they have the disease every two minutes.

Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, professor of medicine at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, said in a previous CNN report that the analysis involved in these tests is "extraordinarily complex". They were less effective at detecting stomach, uterine, and early-stage prostate cancer, according to the ASCO abstract.

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