By Kennedy Shelley
A revolutionary new test could make it possible to detect over 50 types of cancer, most of which are very tough to diagnose until it is too late.
Imagine getting your annual blood work done and being able to do a cancer screening without having to get into an MRI tube.
That is the promise of a study just released in the Annals of Oncology.
It turns out that when cancer cells are present, the body’s immune response is to shed DNA which is circulated in the blood, and now thanks to new computer technology it is detectable.
Early detection gives patients and doctors more opportunity to make better treatment decisions.
This test not only detects cancer but gives some very good clues as to what type of cancer they have.
In some ways the early detection is going to change the discussions doctors have with their patients about cancer.
Some cancers are slow growing and some spontaneously go away as the body naturally fights the cell anomalies, so learning that there are cancer markers in the blood does not necessarily mean chemotherapy or surgery.
The test now moves into clinical trials. The Harvard School of Medicine is leading this effort.
While the test is proving to be very accurate, the goal is to see if it is creating false positives which could lead to unnecessary worry, procedures and tests.
Then there is the question of what you do about positive tests.
And that is going to require some more clinical application to figure out what is the correct next step.
The test was created using a computer algorithm using AI technology. It traced the presence of methylation in DNA and the computer found the pattern.
They used the blood samples of over 3000 people, half had cancer, and half did not. The AI program soon found a pattern that has eluded researchers for decades.
The results were promising, though not 100%. For instance, it would show 1% who did not have cancer were testing positive. And it did not detect every cancer either.
In Stage I cancers it only picked up 18% on average, while by Stage IV it was picking up over 93%.
In other words, getting a clean cancer blood test doesn’t mean you are cancer free at this point, but early detection of pancreatic cancer can be a life saver.
But some cancers were more detectable than others. For instance, the test was able to find pancreatic cancer 63% of the time in Stage I, and 93% of the time in Stage IV.
Many cancers are notoriously hard to detect in the early stage and getting a heads up on 18% of them without the need for expensive testing could save many lives.
Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the US killing over a half a million people a year, so detecting 18% could save nearly 90,000 people from a great deal of pain each year.
Cancer cells are less aggressive in the early stages and far easier to treat, and a simple screening tool could give us an important weapon to fight this killer.