Cancer blood test ‘holy grail’

The Timaru Herald - - FRONT PAGE -

prac­tice of medicine,’’ he said.

US sci­en­tists found the simple test was able to iden­tify ge­netic traces of can­cers, in­clud­ing those which are no­to­ri­ously hard to de­tect, such as pan­cre­atic and ovar­ian disease.

The new ap­proach looks for frag­ments of DNA re­leased into the blood stream by fast-grow­ing cancer cells.

Dr Eric Klein, the lead au­thor, from the Cleve­land Clinic in Ohio, said: ‘‘This is po­ten­tially the holy grail of cancer re­search, to find can­cers that are cur­rently hard to cure at an ear­lier stage when they are eas­ier to cure, and we hope this test could save many lives.

‘‘Most can­cers are de­tected at a late stage, but this ‘liq­uid biopsy’ gives us the op­por­tu­nity to find them months or years be­fore some­one would de­velop symp­toms and be di­ag­nosed.’’

The re­sults, which will be pre­sented at the an­nual con­fer­ence of the Amer­i­can So­ci­ety of Clin­i­cal On­col­ogy in Chicago, come from re­search on more than 1600 adults, of whom 749 were cancer-free, while 878 had been newly di­ag­nosed with the disease.

The tests found early warn­ing signs in the blood for 10 types of cancer with ac­cu­racy of more than 50 per cent. The best re­sults were for ovar­ian and pan­cre­atic cancer, at 90 and 80 per cent. Four out of five were di­ag­nosed with liver and gall blad­der can­cers.

For blood can­cers lym­phoma and myeloma, it was 77 and 73 per cent ac­cu­rate, while cor­rectly di­ag­nos­ing twothirds of peo­ple with bowel cancer.

The re­sults for triple-neg­a­tive breast cancer were 58 per cent, and the test also de­tected lung, gul­let and head and neck can­cers with more than 50 per cent ac­cu­racy. It was less able to pick up stom­ach, uter­ine and early-stage low-grade prostate cancer.

Dr Klein, whose re­search team also Dr Eric Klein in­volved Stan­ford Univer­sity, said: ‘‘Po­ten­tially this test could be used for ev­ery­body, re­gard­less of their fam­ily his­tory. It is sev­eral steps away, and more re­search is needed, but it could be given to healthy adults of a cer­tain age, such as those over 40, to see if they have early signs of cancer.’’

The test uses whole genome se­quenc­ing, of the type peo­ple use to check their fam­ily trees. But ex­perts say it is much more sen­si­tive than pre­vi­ous tests. Cur­rently, for cancer, there is just one blood test avail­able to di­ag­nose peo­ple be­fore they find a lump or ini­tial symp­tom. This is the no­to­ri­ously un­re­li­able PSA test for prostate cancer.

The new test has three parts, test­ing the whole genome for DNA frag­ments first, then search­ing for spe­cific ge­netic mu­ta­tions and fi­nally DNA methy­la­tion – a process which changes the way genes work when some­one has cancer.

Sci­en­tists said the tests – likely to cost between £500 ($NZ946) and £1000 – would be able to de­liver re­sults in less than two weeks. It is part of a new gen­er­a­tion of ‘‘liq­uid biop­sies’’ which have ad­van­tages for early de­tec­tion of cancer over tra­di­tional biop­sies which re­move tis­sue, such as part of the breast or lung, from some­one’s body.

Pro­fes­sor Ni­cholas Turner, from the In­sti­tute of Cancer Re­search in Lon­don, de­scribed the find­ings as ‘‘re­ally ex­cit­ing’’, and said the tests could form part of a ‘‘univer­sal screen­ing pro­gramme’’.

He said: ‘‘Far too many can­cers are picked up too late, when it is no longer pos­si­ble to op­er­ate and the chances of sur­vival and slim. The goal is to de­velop a blood test, such as this one, that can ac­cu­rately iden­tify can­cers in their ear­li­est stages. This par­tic­u­lar test is re­ally ex­cit­ing – but it is likely to be a few years be­fore it is ready for clin­i­cal use.’’ – Tele­graph Group

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