A breakthrough blood test developed by scientists at the Johns Hopkins University is seen to detect early signs of the eight most common cancers normally diagnosed already in its later stages, according to research published Science.
These detection services include cancer of the ovary, liver, pancreas, esophagus, bowel, lungs, stomach or breast.
The test, initially dubbed ‘liquid biopsy’ and now called CancerSEEK, works by looking for mutated DNA that dying cells shed into the blood, and protein biomarkers associated with bowel, breast, liver, lung, esophageal, ovarian, pancreatic and stomach cancer.
The test looks for mutations in 16 genes that regularly occur in cancer, and eight proteins that are often released, the report added.
Science reported that CancerSEEK is novel because it hunts for both the mutated DNA and the proteins. The blood test could complement other cancer screening tools as well.
Clinical tests done on 1, 000 patients with cancers in the ovary, liver, stomach, pancreas, esophagus, colon, lung or breast found that CancerSEEK was able to detect it accurately 70% of the time, which means earlier detection in other patients who are yet diagnosed, giving them more time and a fighting chance at beating the disease.
The research also tested 800 volunteers who were not diagnosed with cancer, and according to a report by ABC News, the researchers bumped that number up to 10, 000 to fully examine CancerSEEK’s effectivity and to determine the cost to patients in the future.
“This field of early detection is critical, and the results are very exciting. I think this can have an enormous impact on cancer mortality,” Dr. Cristian Tomasetti of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine told BBC.
The current screening tests for cancer reduce the risk of death to 50%, but CancerSEEK allows for early detection of five types of cancers that previously had no screening program for early detection.
Cancers occurring in the pancreas for example, has so few symptoms that it is usually detected far too late and four in five of people diagnosed die in the year they find out they have the cancer. Ovarian cancer also has an early detection rate of only 15%, said researchers.
Dr. Gert Attard, team leader in the Center for Evolution and Cancer at the Institute of Cancer Research and consultant medical oncologist at the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust in London even called it ‘the Holy Grail’ in a report by BBC.
“This is of massive potential. This is the Holy Grail—a blood test to diagnose cancer without all the other procedures like scans or colonoscopy,” said Attard.
Professor Peter Gibbs, and Australian researcher from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute who is involved in CancerSEEK’s study, added that it was ‘the first time’ they saw potential in a blood test to detect cancer.
“For the first time we’re seeing potential for a blood test that can screen for many types of nasty cancers that until now we’ve had to wait until symptoms are diagnosed quite late,” he said.
CancerSEEK is designed for people 50 and above as well as younger people with a family history of cancer. Gibbs told ABC he hopes the test would become part of an annual regular checkup.