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Cancer blood test detects eight types of the disease

22 January 2018

Called CancerSEEK, the test, devised at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, has the potential to spot eight of the most common forms of the disease far earlier, giving patients a better chance of beating the disease. It was able to catch cancer cases anywhere from 33 percent to 98 percent of the time, depending on the type.

The investigators feel that a test that will be used routinely for cancer screening must have a cost in line with or less than other now available screening tests for single cancers, such as colonoscopy.

Those cancers included ovarian, pancreatic, stomach, liver and esophageal cancers.

"This interesting research is a step towards being able to do this earlier than is now possible", he said.

There have been many attempts over the decades to develop blood tests to screen for cancers.

"This is a proof-of-concept", said Dr. Anne Marie Lennon, one of the researchers on the work.

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The Johns Hopkins team thinks Cancer-SEEK is ready for testing as a screening tool.

"This is the first step", he said about the study.

"Our study lays the conceptual and practical foundation for a single, multi-analyte blood test for cancers of many types", the authors conclude.

"We are dealing with a needle in a haystack", Papadopoulos said. "We know from the data that when you find cancer early, it is easier to kill it by surgery or chemotherapy". It did less well at the very earliest stage.

"You have to detect smaller and smaller molecules that are swimming in a sea of background noise", Lichtenfeld said.

The test detects mutations in 16 genes tied to cancer and measures eight proteins that often are elevated when cancer is present.

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"That's a big move forward", she said. "They end up with performance that is similar to other approaches, but with what looks to be a much more cost-effective approach", says Nitzan Rosenfeld, a cancer researcher at the University of Cambridge, UK.

"So hopefully, eventually this will be a few hundred dollars, which puts it in the ballpark of many other tests that we routinely do", he said.

For one, the current study did not look at whether CancerSEEK can actually screen for tumors. And they excluded individuals whose cancer had spread to other parts of the body, so they could focus on early stages of the disease.

Those forms of the disease represent more than 60% of cancer deaths in the USA, they said.

"There is significantly more work to be done before a blood test can be offered for early finding of a blend of different diseases", he said. This is a less than 1 percent false positive result.

"The sensitivity for the stage 1 cancers in the study was only 40 per cent". It has also been found to rarely be positive in people who don't have cancer. The algorithm guessed right 83 percent of the time. "Very high specificity was essential because false-positive results can subject patients to unnecessary invasive follow-up tests and procedures to confirm the presence of cancer", says Kenneth Kinzler, Ph.D.

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"This is an important study". However, this can prove hard as a lot of the tests that are now in use may not be sufficiently accurate, or the symptoms may only be detected at a late stage. "But there's a long way to go".

Cancer blood test detects eight types of the disease