Cancer blood test 'enormously exciting'
Scientists have taken a step towards one of the
biggest goals in medicine - a universal blood test for cancer.
A team at Johns Hopkins University has trialled a
method that detects eight common forms of the disease.
Their vision is an annual test designed to catch
cancer early and save lives. UK experts said it was "enormously
Tumours release tiny traces of their mutated DNA and
proteins they make into the bloodstream.
The Cancer Seek test looks for mutations in 16 genes
that regularly arise in cancer and eight proteins that are often
It was trialled on 1,005 patients with cancers in the
ovary, liver, stomach, pancreas, oesophagus, colon, lung or breast that
had not yet spread to other tissues.
Overall, the test found 70% of the cancers.
Dr Cristian Tomasetti, from Johns Hopkins University
School of Medicine, told the BBC: "This field of early detection is
critical, and the results are very exciting.
"I think this can have an enormous impact on cancer
The earlier a cancer is found, the greater the chance
of being able to treat it.
Five of the eight cancers investigated have no
screening programmes for early detection.
Pancreatic cancer has so few symptoms and is detected
so late that four in five patients die in the year they are diagnosed.
Finding tumours when they could still be surgically
removed would be "a night and day difference" for survival, said Dr
Cancer Seek is now being trialled in people who have
not been diagnosed with cancer.
This will be the real test of its usefulness.
The hope is it can complement other screening tools
such as mammograms for breast cancer and colonoscopies for colorectal
Dr Tomasetti told the BBC: "We envision a blood test
we could use once a year."
The Cancer Seek test, reported in the journal Science,
is novel because it hunts for both the mutated DNA and the proteins.
cancer can be detected by the new test
Increasing the number of mutations and proteins being
analysed would allow it to test for a wider range of cancers.
Dr Gert Attard, team leader in the Centre for
Evolution and Cancer at the Institute of Cancer Research, London, and
consultant medical oncologist at the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust,
told the BBC: "This is of massive potential.
"I'm enormously excited. This is the Holy Grail - a
blood test to diagnose cancer without all the other procedures like
scans or colonoscopy."
He said "we're very close" to using blood tests to
screen for cancer as "we have the technology".
But he cautioned there was still uncertainty about
what to do when a cancer was diagnosed.
In some cases, the treatment may be worse than living
with a cancer that is not immediately life-threatening.
Men can already have slow growing prostate cancers
closely monitored rather than treated.
"When we detect cancer in a different way, we can't
take for granted that everyone will need treatment," Dr Attard said.
The cost of Cancer Seek is less than $500 (œ360) per
patient, which is around the same price as a colonoscopy.
Courtesy : BBC News
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