All-seeing blood test for cancer a step closer

Henrietta Strickland
January 21, 2018

The scientists said that their test was aimed at detecting eight different and common forms of the deadly disease. It found 70 percent of the eight cancers.

The findings were published online by Science on January 18, 2018.

Increasing the number of mutations and proteins being analysed would allow it to test for a wider range of cancers.

"This field of early detection is critical", said Dr. Cristian Tomasetti, from the John Hopkins University School of Medicine.

There are no screening tests yet available for average-risk individuals. The test they developed - dubbed CancerSEEK - examines the levels of 8 proteins and the presence of mutations in 16 genes.

The test is now being extended to more patients with no previous diagnoses and researchers hope to make it common practice within a few years.

The research, reported in Science, followed 1,005 patients who had any of eight cancers: breast, colon, lung, ovarian, pancreatic, stomach, liver or esophageal. Sensitivity ranged from 69 percent to 98 percent for the five cancers that now have no routine screening tests, the researchers report.

The test could become available to patients in the next few years.

The researchers also trained a machine-learning algorithm to determine the location of a person's tumor from the blood clues.

"We know from the data that when you find cancer early, it is easier to kill it by surgery or chemotherapy", Papadopoulos added. So patients in a real-life screening likely would have less advanced disease and might be more hard to test.

Speaking to the BBC, Paul Pharoah, professor of cancer epidemiology at the University of Cambridge, said: "Demonstrating that a test can detect advanced cancers does not mean that the test will be useful in detecting early-stage symptomatic cancer, much less pre-symptomatic cancer".

This blood test, called CancerSEEK, could cost less than $500, which is comparable to or lower than other screening tests, such as a colonoscopy, according to the study.

The scientists optimized the panel by working to the concept of diminishing returns.

A simple test could revolutionize how we detect cancer and save millions of lives in the process. The result was a "small but robust" panel of highly selective DNA markers.

The researchers still have a long way to go in order to see if the test really works on the general population and prevents deaths by early cancer detection say experts.

Another feature is it is non invasive and can, potentially, be administered by primary care givers at the time of other routine blood testing.

Larger studies of the test are now under way.

Journal Reference: Joshua D. Cohen et al. In fact, the test picked up only 43% of very early, stage 1 cancers.

"It's really looking for the needle in the haystack", researcher Nickolas Papadopoulos told Newsweek. A different Johns Hopkins team managed to identify mutated DNA in a blood sample as a marker of early-stage cancer. You will need your user ID and password to access this information.

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