Cancer detection has always been a difficult task, and all those methods which are currently available imply expensive and far from being pleasant means of diagnostics, such as colonoscopy. Now researchers have invented a blood test that is a step towards early, non-invasive, and accurate diagnostics.
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Investigators from the John Hopkins University have reported their trial has been successful. They invented a blood test that is capable of identifying 8 different forms of cancer, and it is worthy of note that for some of them there had been no diagnostic tools at all.
The new invention is called CancerSEEK, and, as its name suggests, it is designed to identify cancer by assessing certain blood parameters. Cancer cells release their DNA, and detecting these particles, as well as biomarker proteins, is a way to determine whether a particular patient has a tumor or not. The novel approach enables the scientists to track down DNA from tumors from sixteen genes. The proteins for which the system is looking include 8 biomarkers. Once the mutations and proteins have been detected, the automatic system analyzes the received data to determine whether there is cancer in the body.
The researchers started with hundreds of genes and forty-one biomarkers, but then the list of them was reduced: the new algorithm provides accurate results using less information. The investigators trialled the new system on about one thousand patients with non-metastatic forms of cancer of different types, including colon, esophagus, ovarian, lung, breast, stomach, liver, and pancreas. The novel blood test managed to detect tumors in 70% of the analyzed cases on average, with greater sensitivity in certain cancer forms. The results varied from 69% to the whopping 98% in the case of those cancer forms for which there are currently no available diagnostic tests (these include pancreas – one the most difficult to treat cancers due to its late detection because of no symptoms at early stages, – stomach, liver, esophagus, and ovary cancers).
One of the most wonderful features of the test that in some cases it can even point to the origin of cancer, i.e. the tissue in which it is located. It means early diagnostics can contribute to early treatment. The earlier you start treating cancer, the easier it gets to fight it. However, in some cases surgery is not used even when a tumor has been found, because treatment can aggravate the patient’s condition even more that the tumor itself, so not all patients in which cancer can be diagnosed by means of this test will have to undergo surgery. Still, the researchers believe this novel approach can help drastically reduce the mortality rate of patients with cancer due to early diagnostics.
A lot of work to be done
While the invention is of great importance and regarded as a breakthrough, more investigations and trials are needed to improve its accuracy. It is estimated that the expected trials can last five or six years, with more people to be involved in the experiment.
The researchers say if more proteins and DNA traces are included in the test, it can be used to detect even more cancer forms.
It is expected that the test will cost no more than five hundred dollars, so it can be compared to other means of diagnostics which are currently available but not that convenient, such as colonoscopy.
Also, more research is required to enhance the test in order to “teach” it how to detect early stages of cancer, because the current version of the test can recognize them only in 40% of cases.
Still, it’s a major step towards introducing a considerably inexpensive and convenient cancer blood test which can be used once a year.
Detection and Localization of Surgically Resectable Cancers with a Multi-Analyte Blood Test – Science.sciencemag.org
CancerSEEK: Blood Test That Detects Eight Common Cancers – Medscape.com