$500 blood test promises to detect cancer before it develops

Cesar Mills
January 22, 2018

For five of these cancer types - ovary, liver, stomach, pancreas and esophagus - there are no screening tests available for people of average risk.

A new cancer detection test may help save thousands of lives through early detection of tumours.

A multi-analyte blood test, CancerSEEK, can detect eight common cancer types, with high sensitivity and specificity, according to a study published online January 18 in Science. "I'm not going to go to the doctor because the CancerSEEK test told me it was negative", Schiffman says.

A patient has blood drawn for a liquid biopsy at a hospital in Philadelphia.

In a major breakthrough, scientists have devised a blood test that can detect eight of the most common types of cancer.

However, where there are proven screening tests that lead to earlier diagnosis and better outcomes, such as colonoscopy screening for bowel cancer, these are typically unpleasant.

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While the test can also give clues about the position of the tumors in the body, it's not always correct.

Cancer is also one of the leading killers in Australia, killing more than 44,000 people each year. "The extent of basic diseases - bosom, lung, colorectal - distinguished is again not as high as other, rarer tumors". The challenge is there are only a very, very small number of these ctDNA fragments to be found. The new result could put the team, led by Nickolas Papadopoulos, Bert Vogelstein, and others at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, among the front-runners.

Using both ctDNA and protein results together increases the test's overall accuracy. The rates varied depending on the type - lower for breast tumours but high for ovarian, liver and pancreatic ones. "The sensitivity for the Stage 1 cancers in the study was only 40 per cent", he said. "There could be a lot of people who are told they have cancer, who may not have it". However, that may not be the full story. A further 812 participants were included in the study who had had no diagnosis of the cancers. By then, they're hard to treat because they've already spread.

"In solid tumors, earlier detection is actually the key. To capitalize on this inherent specificity, we sought to develop a small yet robust panel that could detect at least one mutation in the vast majority of cancers", says Joshua Cohen, an M.D. Its survival rates are pitiful - only four per cent of patients survive for five years, compared with 87 per cent of breast cancer patients. "Almost no systemic therapy we've ever given in pancreatic cancer works, not to an appreciable degree". Certain cancers seem to be easier to detect than others. They point out that this molecular test is exclusively aimed at cancer screening and, therefore, is different from other molecular tests, which rely on analyzing large numbers of cancer-driving genes to identify therapeutically actionable targets. CancerSEEK was able to spot cancer 78% of the time in people who had been diagnosed with stage 3 cancer, 73% of the time in people with stage 2 cancer and 43% of the time in people diagnosed with stage 1 cancer.

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. Compared with the cost of treating advanced cancer, could this actually save the healthcare system money?

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