Blood Test Might Spot Cancer Years Earlier

THURSDAY, July 23, 2020 (HealthDay News) – Scientists are working on a blood test that could detect five common cancers years earlier than current methods.

The blood test, which is still experimental, looks for certain genetic “signatures” associated with tumors. Researchers found it could detect five types of cancer – colon, esophageal, liver, lungs and stomach – up to four years earlier, compared to routine medical care.

Further research is needed to confirm the accuracy of the test. But these early results “offer hope,” said researcher Kun Zhang, professor of bioengineering at the University of California, San Diego.

Having a “convenient and quick” blood test that can detect cancers earlier could give people more treatment options and hopefully improve their chances of survival, Zhang said.

In fact, such a test is the proverbial “holy grail” in cancer research, said Dr. William Cance, medical and scientific director of the American Cancer Society.

A number of experimental blood tests have been studied and are in development. But the new study, Cance said, is an “important step forward.”

“This test has one of the highest sensitivity rates ever reported, and it is able to do this with a relatively small blood sample,” he said.

Sensitivity refers to the ability of a test to accurately detect all people with a disease. In this study, the blood test had a sensitivity rate of about 95% in people without symptoms of cancer.

However, Zhang and Cance both pointed out that there is a long way to go.

As a next step, the performance of the test should be validated in additional study groups, according to Cance.

And finally, said Zhang, any blood test for cancer screening would have to be proven in a clinical trial.

The concept of using a blood test to detect cancers at an early stage is based on a simple fact: Tumor cells regularly shed pieces of their DNA into a person’s bloodstream.

One catch, however, is that DNA is only present in small amounts – especially when tumors are small. This can make recovery difficult, Zhang said.

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