Scientists 'Enormously Excited' About Cancer Blood Test

The test works by searching for tiny amounts of mutated DNA and proteins in the blood.

Developed by scientists at John Hopkins University in the United States, in collaboration with Australian and Italian researchers, the test looks for key proteins and gene mutations that commonly arise in cancer. The sensitivity for the earliest stage cancers (Stage I) was highest for liver cancer (100%) and lowest for esophageal cancer (20%).

In addition to skin cancer, prostate and breast cancers are the most commonly diagnosed, followed by bowel, melanoma and lung cancer.

The test was also tried on 812 people with no history of cancer to see how often it gave "false-positive" results.

United Kingdom officials said the development is "enormously exciting", as BBC reports. The team, he said, developed a "robust panel" of tests that could detect at least one mutation in the DNA that could predict the cancer.

Some independent experts saw great promise. "This is the paper that's going to set the field in motion". "Anything close to 50 percent or 40 percent detection is pretty exciting stuff", and this one did better than that, he said. Only seven were flagged as positives, meaning researchers could not be certain if the results were false positives or the seven individuals had early-stage cancer but were showing no symptoms.

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But he cautioned: "We have a long way to go to demonstrate its effectiveness as a screening test". The sensitivity was 69% or higher for ovarian, liver, stomach, pancreatic, and esophageal cancers-all types that are hard to detect early.

How can a simple blood test detect signs of cancer? And the test hasn't even been tried on patients who have yet to develop symptoms.

The effectiveness of CancerSEEK varied widely depending on the cancer: it detected 98% of ovarian cancers, but only 33% of breast cancer cases. Will the test pick up small tumors that would never grow large enough to cause problems yet will be treated anyway, at unnecessary cost, risk, and anxiety to the patient? The Nanny star Fran Drescher, who was diagnosed with uterine cancer in 2000, started her own cancer foundation that focuses on detecting cancer early on.

If available, the test is estimated to cost less than $500 per batch, which is in line with other cancer detectors, such as colonoscopies, and was described by Dr Anirban Maitra from the Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, as "a very attractive number".

The scientists at Hopkins have already launched their next study, which could involve tens of thousands of apparently healthy volunteers who are enrolled in the Geisinger Health Plan in Pennsylvania.

Another feature is it is non invasive and can, potentially, be administered by primary care givers at the time of other routine blood testing. Some look for proteins in the blood that appear with cancer. For the research, scientists looked at 1,005 people suffering from Cancer. Also, that rate could well be lower than the 70 percent normal.

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