'Holy grail' blood test detects cancer years before symptoms show

Vanessa Hillary

A new blood test shows promise for detecting many types of cancer, even in the early stages of the disease, according to a new study.

Dr. Geoffrey Oxnard of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, who led the study, called the findings "promising early results", but said the tests need to be validated in a larger group of people.

The test also detected pancreatic cancer with 80 percent accuracy, hepatobiliary cancer (cancer of the liver, bile duct or gallbladder) with 80 percent accuracy, lymphoma with 77 percent accuracy, multiple myeloma (a cancer of white blood cells) with 73 percent accuracy and colorectal cancer with 66 percent accuracy.

"This is potentially the holy grail of cancer research, to find cancers that are now hard to cure at an earlier stage when they are easier to cure", lead researcher Dr. Eric Klein of the Cleveland Clinic said, via Tech Times. But they did a better job of detecting later-stage cancers, which shed more DNA fragments, than early-stage cancers, the company's ultimate goal.

The findings will be presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting in Chicago this weekend.

The blood test they were given is expected in the real world to deliver a result in one to 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.

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Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England, said "new techniques" such as cancer blood tests could "unlock enormous survival gains, as well as dramatic productivity benefits in the practice of medicine".

Takabe noted that although the study included more than 1,600 patients, the number of patients with some types of cancers was quite small - for example, only about 10 patients in the study had ovarian cancer - which is another limitation of the study.

"What we're generally seeing is a strong blood-based biological signal for cancers that have a high mortality and are typically not screened for", Dr. Anne-Renee Hartman, vice president of clinical development at Grail, said in a telephone interview.

Nevertheless, researchers aim to develop a tool that could be used by for all people regardless of their family history.

However, it was less effective at detecting stomach, uterine and early-stage prostate cancer, the authors said.

"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".

Nicholas Turner from London's Institute of Cancer Research said, via The Guardian.

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