One blood test 'can detect early signs' of eight common cancers

Lawrence Kim
January 20, 2018

A new cancer detection test may help save thousands of lives through early detection of tumours. It could even literally save lives by detecting early-stage cancers, including hard-to-detect ones like pancreatic cancer.

The researchers found that in a median of 70 percent of the eight cancer types, CancerSEEK tests were positive.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore developed the test, known as CancerSEEK, in a study involving more than 1,000 patients.

In recent years, researchers have been studying "liquid biopsies" - tests that look for cancer markers in the blood or other body fluids.

The test called CancerSEEK looks for the presence of eight different types of cancer, including lung, breast and colorectal cancers, which are usually diagnosed when it is too late to fight them and are together responsible for more than 60 percent of cancer deaths in the United States.

Cell biopsy studied under a microscope - the current way of detecting cancer.

Experts on the disease are calling the new test "enormously exciting".

Genetic mutations drive the growth of cancer cells, and dying cells shed some of this mutated DNA into the blood.

Interestingly, the team also carried out a control experiment on more than 800 people with no history of cancer. "We're still not there yet", Bardelli says. "...we searched for the minimum number of short amplicons that would allow us to detect at least one driver gene mutation in each of the eight tumor types evaluated", the researchers write. However, this is not a test that will detect every cancer, every time.

Scientists are "very close" to using blood tests to screen for cancer as they "have the technology".

Another concern is whether the false-positive rate might be higher in the general population, says Catherine Alix-Panabières, a cancer researcher at the University of Montpellier in France. However, that may not be the full story. 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. Other groups, among them startups with more than $1 billion in funding, are already pursuing that prospect.

Pancreatic cancer, for example, has very few symptoms and is hard to detect. "Almost no systemic therapy we've ever given in pancreatic cancer works, not to an appreciable degree". But sadly, many cancers are not caught until the later stages, and this is largely due to a lack of fast and effective diagnostic tools. "And the surgeries are not so easy", Roschewski said.

"When we detect cancer in a different way, we can't take for granted that everyone will need treatment", Dr Attard said.

The test is now being trialled on people who have no formal cancer diagnosis.

Australian scientists from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, Associate Professor Jeanne Tie and Professor Peter Gibbs joined the research and they believe the test could not only be vital for middle-aged patients but for the young generation as well. Maybe-or maybe not, Roschewski noted. Is that good enough for screening large numbers of people?

The test is not available yet, and it could be years until it comes to the market.

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