Researchers have developed a blood test that can detect the presence of eight common cancers. It is welcome news for health professionals and doctors, who have long suggested that early detection is the key when beating cancer.
One of the most important attributes of a screening test is the ability to detect cancers at relatively early stages, the author point out. It is unclear how well this test works on people without any prior diagnosis.
The mutated DNA and proteins are released by tumours.
If these results are replicated in additional studies, people might someday receive the results of their "liquid biopsy" a few days or weeks after a simple blood draw.
We used CancerSEEK in just over 1,000 people with different types of early stage cancers.
Our Director of Research, Dr Kieran Breen says: "This is very exciting news as we desperately need early tests to help us detect cancer". They made a decision to sequence parts of just 16 genes often mutated in different types of cancer. If CancerSEEK can only reliably identify advanced cancer where symptoms are already showing, it is not very useful as a screening test.
The sensitivity was lowest for breast cancer, which was only detected in one out of three cases.
The earlier a cancer is found, the greater the chance of being able to treat it.
USA researchers are now trialling the test on 10,000 more people to examine how effective it is, as well as to help determine how much the test could cost patients in the future.
The test also appear to be least sensitive for two of the most common cancers (lung and breast), although this is probably due to the selection of biomarkers and can be further improved on.
Maitra and others point to caveats, however. Pancreatic cancer, for instance, is often detected so late that four in five patients die in the year that they are diagnosed.
Increasing the number of mutations and proteins being analysed would allow it to test for a wider range of cancers.
"We were agreeably shocked that we could identify the measure of tumors that we could distinguish", Papadopoulos said.
"The results of the study will certainly stimulate further development of blood tests for the early detection of tumors", said Pantel.
Pancreatic cancer patients especially might have a better shot. The study was funded by many foundations, research groups, and grants, while numerous study authors have ties to biotechnology or pharmaceutical companies, as well as patents.
CancerSEEK costs around £360 per patient, roughly the same price of a colonoscopy. Papadopoulos thinks the problem is manageable because an expert team will assess each case. "Significantly each test can only screen for one cancer at a time".
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