'Holy grail' of blood tests can detect 10 types of cancer

Faith Castro
June 4, 2018

A new liquid biopsy test could detect cancer years before symptoms are apparent, according to research presented today (June 1) at the American Society of Clinical Oncologists (ASCO) meeting in Chicago.

It can now detect ovarian, pancreatic, liver, lymphoma, multiple myeloma, colorectal, esophageal, lung, head and neck, and breast cancers, but it works best for ovarian and pancreatic forms of the disease. The test had particularly good results for ovarian and pancreatic cancers, though the number of cancers detected was small.

Initial evidence from an ongoing study suggests a "liquid biopsy" may help spot the first signs of the disease, which is the third most common cancer in the UK.

"When this test, or another like it, are ready for clinical use, it could be used as part of a universal screening program, with the potential to save many lives". One of the issues is the blood-brain barrier that protects the brain.

The blood test screens for the deadly disease by detecting tiny bits of DNA released by cancer cells into blood. While it detected ovarian cancer with 90 percent success rate, for example, only 10 instances of this type of cancer were detected throughout the testing period.

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The test worked best for ovarian cancer, correctly detecting this cancer in 90 percent of patients who had it. "And, in this case applied to a high risk group to show how effective it would be in detecting cancer at its earliest stage".

Currently, for cancer, there is just one blood test available to diagnose people before they find a lump or initial symptom. The test is a "liquid biopsy", which is a type of screening that is generally seen as having advantages over traditional biopsies, which require an actual tissue sample from parts of someone's body.

"Far too many cancers are picked up too late, when it is no longer possible to operate and the chances of survival are slim", said Prof Nicholas Turner from the Institute of Cancer Research in London, according to The Guardian. "The goal is to develop a blood test, such as this one, that can accurately identify cancers in their earliest stages".

Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, said such advances in medicine could "dramatically transform" the tools doctors use to screen cancer.

"In particular, new techniques for precision early diagnosis would unlock enormous survival gains, as well as dramatic productivity benefits in the practice of medicine".

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