Scientists move one step closer to universal cancer tests

Avatar By Joseph Scalise | 2 years ago

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University have come one step closer to creating a universal blood test for cancer, according to a new report in the journal Science. 

The team developed a new method that, when trialed, detected eight common forms of the deadly disease. Their version is an annual test that is designed to catch cancer as early as possible.

Tumors release small traces of mutated DNA and proteins into the bloodstream. The new test — known as Cancer Seek — looks for such mutations across 16 genes that typically arise during cancer, as well as in eight proteins that are commonly released with the disease.

Researchers used the method on 1,005 patients with ovary, liver, stomach, pancreas, esophagus, colon, lung, or breast cancer that had not yet spread to other tissues. It found roughly 70 percent of all the diseases.

“This field of early detection is critical, and the results are very exciting,” study co-author Cristian Tomasetti, a researcher at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, told BBC News. “I think this can have an enormous impact on cancer mortality.”

Early detection is critical because the earlier the disease is found, the greater the chance of being able to properly treat it. Five of eight cancers detected in the study currently have no way to screen for early detection. For instance, pancreatic cancer has so few symptoms that four in five patients with the disease die the year they are diagnosed.

Now that Cancer Seek has proven successful in early testing, the team next plans to try it on people who have not been diagnosed with cancer. If it still works with high accuracy, it could be given the green light for widespread usage.

Scientists eventually hope to use the process as a blood test that is taken once a year. If the number of mutations and proteins being analyzed were to increase, it could also help the system detect even more types of cancer.

“This has the potential to substantially impact patients,” said study co-author Ann Marie Lennon, an associate professor of medicine, surgery and radiology, clinical director of gastroenterology and director of the Multidisciplinary Pancreatic Cyst Program, in a statement. “Earlier detection provides many ways to improve outcomes for patients. Optimally, cancers would be detected early enough that they could be cured by surgery alone, but even cancers that are not curable by surgery alone will respond better to systemic therapies when there is less advanced disease.”