A promising diagnosis test can accurately detect cancer in 7 out of 10 patients just by reading telltale genetic mutations found in the blood. While it will not replace invasive biopsies when the test runs negative, the procedure could help identify tumours earlier. When cancer is involved, the faster you find it, the better the chance of surviving it.
The test was developed for lung tumors in particular, but findings show it can identify other forms of cancer that share the same markers, like colorectal cancer. The test was developed by doctors at the Royal Brompton Hospital and the National Heart and Lung Institute (NHLI) at Imperial College London and works by screening plasma from the blood for tiny fragments of genetic material. These cancerous fragments are known as circulating tumor DNA.
These sort of blood tests aren’t exactly new, but they’ve only now become feasible. A couple years ago it cost even millions to sequence human DNA. Advances in gene splicing tech means that this cost has dropped to a couple hundred dollars.
Using this test, the researchers at the hospital were able to identify 7 out of 10 patients which were later confirmed to have cancer with other methods. Consultant thoracic surgeon Eric Lim, who led the study, said the test could be “a real game changer” in the diagnosis and treatment for all types of cancer.
“The test is not an alternative to a biopsy for all patients, but when a blood test shows a positive result, this could mean a patient is saved from going through an unnecessary and invasive diagnostic procedure,” Lim said.
“It might also result in patients having earlier imaging scans and beginning treatment sooner.”
A negative result from the blood test would not completely rule out the presence of cancer cells, so follow-up using conventional diagnosis methods would still be required.
This isn’t the first blood test for cancer with promising results. ZME Science previously reported how researchers at University of Bradford used a similar method to identify 20 patients with melanoma, 34 with colon cancer, and 4 with lung cancer. Just a few months ago, researchers at The Institute of Cancer Research were able accurately predict which breast cancer patient will relapse next by tracking key mutations of residual cancer cells found in the blood.
While cancer might never be cured, the next couple of years should see a steep decline in cancer fatalities through prevention and diagnosis advances such as these.