Experts have a new cancer test that could save thousands of lives. All cells in the body release information into the bloodstream through secretion or as they die. Cancer tumors are no different and this could be the key to unlocking early diagnosis. Blood tests that look for this cell information which is known as ‘circulating tumor DNA’ could accurately detect different types of cancer years before symptoms appear.
[Image Source: National Cancer Institute via Wikimedia Commons]
Researchers have hinted that the straightforward blood test could become part of regular health checks and reduce the need for invasive, sometimes painful, biopsies and physical examinations. If cancer can be diagnosed in its early stages, the likelihood of survival is significantly increased, possibly saving thousands of lives each year. This new research into early cancer diagnosis was presented at the world’s largest cancer conference in Chicago this week.
Some cancer types are difficult to diagnose in their early stages as symptoms are vague and can be attributed to a variety of diseases or illnesses. Dr Nicholas Turner, from the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) in London and the Royal Marsden Hospital in London, suggested that if the cancer test could pick up half of the lung, ovarian and pancreatic cancer diagnosis that it would be a “substantial advance on where we are currently”. He went on to state “The cancer community is extremely excited about the potential [of blood tests] but whether that potential can be achieved is not clear enough yet.”
Dr Bert Vogelstein, a professor of oncology at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, suggested that if doctors could detect all cancers while they are still localised, you could diminish cancer deaths by 90 percent.
The new testing uses an already existing method of analyzing DNA for cancer. Currently, oncology experts use this method to tailor treatments for people in late stages of cancer who have larger amounts of the disease present in their blood. They are now working to turn this knowledge into a cancer test that will specifically look for early stages of cancer in people that appear to show no symptoms.
[Image Source: Wikipedia]
Current research in this field is heavily supported by the US firm Grail. Grail is backed by 100 million US dollars of funding from Bill Gates and Amazon chief Jeff Bezos. The company has set 2019 as the goal for the cancer test’s release date.
The long-term goal is for people to have access to the cancer test as part of their regular health checks by their local GP. If the tests were positive for cancer, treatment could begin immediately, thus saving potential lives.
One issue facing researchers is that of the cancer test returning false positives. This would be when people are thought to have cancer when they do not. These false positive results are more likely in older patients who naturally would shed genetic mutation information into their blood but might not necessarily have cancer.
An early cancer blood test is likely to be three to five years away, according to Peter Gibbs, associate professor of medical oncology at the Royal Melbourne and Western Hospitals in Australia, who worked on recent studies in the field.