CancerSEEK: A blood test that can screen eight cancer types

CancerSEEK: A blood test that can screen eight cancer types

Scientists have developed a single blood test that can help in the early diagnoses of eight common cancer types and helps identify the location of the disease.

So far, liquid biopsies have mostly been tested in patients with advanced cancer. The test is aimed at screening for eight common cancer types that account for more than 60 percent of cancer deaths in the U.S. Five of the cancers covered by the test now have no screening test.

1,005 people suffering from cancers of the ovary, liver, stomach, pancreas, oesophagus, colon, lung or breast that had not yet spread to other tissues were used to experiment the tests. Meanwhile, the test incorrectly diagnosed just seven (or less than 1 percent) of healthy participants with cancer. The CancerSEEK test uses a computer algorithm to try to pinpoint the organ, or at least narrow it to a couple of possibilities.

Worldwide, cancer remains one of the leading causes of death. "But we don't want people calling up" and asking for the test now, because it's not available, he said.

"It's such a good first set of results" that it gives hope this approach will pan out, said Dr. Peter Bach, a health policy expert at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center who consults for a gene testing company. Breast cancer is one of the cancers the new blood test can detect.

In this study, the test had greater than 99 percent specificity for cancer. A new blood test, however, could offer a much-needed simpler and more effective diagnostic technique.

The new blood test, reported in the journal Science, screens for key proteins and gene mutations that indicate the presence of the cancers. These include breast, lung, and colorectal cancer, as well as five cancers - ovarian, liver, stomach, pancreatic, and esophageal - for which there are now no routine screening tests for people at average risk. Prostate cancer is not included.

To precisely determine the optimal number of DNA bases to assess in the CancerSEEK test, the researchers used a method based on diminishing returns.

Professor Richard Marais, a researcher at the Cancer Research UK, also relayed his opinion on CancerSEEK, "Detecting cancer early, before the disease has spread, is one of the most powerful ways to improve cancer survival and this interesting research is a step towards being able to do this earlier than is now possible". It did less well at the very earliest stage.

An example is the comment of Dr. Gert Attard, the team leader at the Centre for Evolution and Cancer at the Institute of Cancer Research, London, United Kingdom, who is also a consultant medical oncologist at the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, on the discovery. Many study leaders have financial ties to gene testing companies, and some get royalties for patents on cancer detection methods.

As for cost, the researchers estimate the blood test could run less than $500 - comparable to a colonoscopy to screen for colon cancer, Lennon noted. The company said its test had an overall accuracy of 84 to 88 per cent for detecting cancer or precancerous growths and a false alarm rate around three per cent. The test is sold now in Taiwan for $500 United States, but should cost around $150 in the USA, he said.

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