New cancer test could save thousands of lives

James Marshall
January 22, 2018

Professor Peter Gibbs from the Walter and Eliza Institute, who has worked on the test, dubbed CancerSEEK, said he thought it would save thousands of lives. "But any time we're talking about curing people-not improving their overall survival, but about potentially curing people-that most of us believe the number of patients we actually cure will be cost-effective".

"We were agreeably shocked that we could identify the measure of tumors that we could distinguish", Papadopoulos said.

Even so, those numbers are high enough to warrant further studies, says Rosenfeld, who is also chief scientific officer at the liquid-biopsy company Inivata in Cambridge.

Some of the blood tests now used to diagnose cancer include complete blood count, blood protein testing, tumor marker tests, and circulating tumor cell tests. The Nanny star Fran Drescher, who was diagnosed with uterine cancer in 2000, started her own cancer foundation that focuses on detecting cancer early on. When these DNA fragments come from a tumor cell, it's called circulating tumor DNA; another term used has been cell-free DNA.

The researchers also employed machine learning to evaluate how various combinations of mutations and proteins can help pinpoint cancer's location.

While researchers are excited about the potential life-saving test, they call this work "a first step". A different Johns Hopkins team managed to identify mutated DNA in a blood sample as a marker of early-stage cancer. They then added eight known protein biomarkers characteristic of specific kinds of cancer. And it was better at detecting stage 2 or 3 cancers, versus stage 1, the investigators found. The sensitivity was 69% or higher for ovarian, liver, stomach, pancreatic, and esophageal cancers-all types that are hard to detect early. In other words, it only "found" cancer in seven out of 812 healthy control subjects (people without cancer).

Other scientists welcomed the research as a significant development in the war on cancer but cautioned that it could still be a long time before its findings are translated into a useful medical tool.

Maitra and others point to caveats, however. That means the 1% false positive rate will likely be higher in less healthy populations, notes proteomics researcher Lance Liotta of George Mason University in Manassas, Virginia.

Nowadays, many cancers are treatable - if we can find a way to detect them early on.

Along with cancer detection, the blood test accurately predicted what type of cancer it was in 83% of cases.

More research needs to be done, but experts in the United Kingdom have called the work "enormously exciting", according to the BBC.

Think about breast cancer.

This will be the real test of its usefulness.

There are no screening tests yet available for average-risk individuals. "I suspect now you're looking at $1,000 or something like that. but as with most technologies, and scale, things get a lot cheaper over time. hopefully that'll drop to a few hundred dollars".

Cohen acknowledged that overtesting and resultant overtreatment "are certainly issues".

"The ultimate goal of CancerSEEK is to detect cancer even earlier - before the disease is symptomatic", the team said.

Pancreatic cancer, for example, has very few symptoms and is hard to detect.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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