The ‘Holy Grail’ of cancer research is discovered: New blood test that can detect 10 different types of cancer YEARS before someone gets ill
- There’s a blood test that can detect 10 types of cancer before someone gets ill
- Scientists in the US have described the test as the ‘holy grail’ of cancer research
- The simple test can pick up early signs of cancers, including breast and ovarian
- It works by picking up fragments of DNA released by fast-growing cancer cells
- In a study of more than 1,400 people, the test had up to 90 per cent accuracy
A blood test that can detect 10 types of cancer potentially years before someone becomes ill has been described as the ‘holy grail’ of cancer research.
Scientists in the US have found a simple test can pick up early signs of cancers including breast, ovarian, bowel and lung cancer.
It works by picking up fragments of DNA released into the blood by fast-growing cancer cells.
In a study of more than 1,400 people, the triple test achieved up to 90 per cent accuracy.
Among four cancer-free people who tested positive, the US authors say two women were diagnosed with ovarian and endometrial cancer just months later.
A new blood test can detect 10 types of cancer potentially years before someone becomes ill
‘The holy grail of cancer research’
The authors, led by Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, will present their findings at the annual conference of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago, and hope the test could be available within five to 10 years for healthy people who are cancer-free.
Dr Eric Klein, lead author of the research from Cleveland Clinic’s Taussig Cancer Institute, said: ‘This is potentially the holy grail of cancer research, to find cancers that are currently hard to cure at an earlier stage when they are easier to cure, and we hope this test could save many lives.
WHAT DO BLOOD TESTS DO?
There are many different types of blood test. Blood tests can check:
- the number of different blood cells – white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets you have in your blood (blood count). Each type of blood cell has an important role in how your body works, such as fighting infection or preventing bruising or bleeding
- how organs such as your liver and kidneys are working
- for abnormal levels of proteins, called tumour markers. Your doctor may measure these markers to help them make a diagnosis or see how well treatment is working
- the levels of other substances in the blood that may be linked with certain types of cancer.
Your doctor will decide which blood tests you need. A phlebotomist, nurse or doctor will take a sample of blood, usually from a vein in your arm. This will then be tested in a laboratory.
Source: Macmillan Cancer Support
‘Most cancers are detected at a late stage, but this ‘liquid biopsy’ gives us the opportunity to find them months or years before someone would develop symptoms and be diagnosed.’
The results to be presented at the US medical conference are for more than 1,400 people, of whom 561 were cancer-free, with no diagnosis, while 845 had been newly diagnosed with the disease.
The blood test they were given is expected in the real world to deliver a result in one to two weeks.
It found early warning signs in the blood for 10 types of cancer with accuracy of more than 50 per cent.
The best results were for ovarian and pancreatic cancer, diagnosing 90 and 80 per cent of people with these diseases.
Four out of five people were also successfully diagnosed with liver and gall bladder cancers.
For blood cancers lymphoma and myeloma, it was 77 and 73 per cent accurate, while correctly diagnosing two-thirds of people with bowel cancer.
The results for triple-negative breast cancer were 58 per cent, and the test also detects lung, gullet and head and neck cancers with more than 50 per cent accuracy.
It was less able to pick up stomach, uterine and early-stage low-grade prostate cancer.
Dr Klein, whose research team also involved Stanford University, said: ‘Potentially this test could be used for everybody, regardless of their family history.
‘It is several steps away, and more research is needed, but it could be given to healthy adults of a certain age, such as those over 40, to see if they have early signs of cancer.’
The test works by detecting fragments of DNA released by the fast-growing cancer cells
More sensitive than previous tests
The test uses whole genome sequencing.
But academics say it is much more sensitive than previous tests.
Currently, for cancer, there is just one blood test available to diagnose people before they find a lump or initial symptom. This is the notoriously unreliable PSA test for prostate cancer.
The new test has three parts, testing the whole genome for DNA fragments first, then searching for specific genetic mutations and finally DNA methylation – a process which changes the way genes work when someone has cancer.
It is part of a new generation of ‘liquid biopsies’ which have advantages for early detection of cancer over traditional biopsies which remove tissue, such as part of the breast or lung, from someone’s body.
Professor Nicholas Turner, from the Institute of Cancer Research, London, described the findings as ‘really exciting’ and could be used for ‘universal screening’
He said: ‘Far too many cancers are picked up too late, when it is no longer possible to operate and the chances of survival and slim.
‘The goal is to develop a blood test, such as this one, that can accurately identify cancers in their earliest stages.
‘This particular test is really exciting but it is likely to be a few years before it is ready for clinical use.’
OVARIAN DRUG ON THE NHS
A drug that halts the spread of ovarian cancer is available to NHS patients in what charities hailed as a ‘major breakthrough’.
Drug-rationing chiefs last night announced daily pill niraparib could be prescribed to women with incurable ovarian cancer.
The treatment freezes tumours for months, halting relapse and giving a crucial break from chemotherapy.
Ovarian cancer affects 7,400 women a year, killing 4,100. Survival rates are low as symptoms such as bloating can be attributed to other illnesses.
It is not yet known whether niraparib will extend the lives of patients but it is thought it will benefit about 850 patients a year. Rebecca Rennison, of charity Target Ovarian Cancer, said it was a ‘game-changer’.
Niraparib is a PARP inhibitor, exploiting a weakness in cancer cells to kill a tumour without harming healthy cells. It will be sold as Zejula and costs £80 a pill – up to £86,786 a year – but the NHS has an undisclosed discount.
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