Cancer diagnoses can be extremely difficult. For most cancers, doctors have to look for symptoms. If enough symptoms present themselves then the next step is usually imaging technology and then surgery into potential cancerous tissues.

The dilemma is that cancer can usually be cured quickly and easily if caught early. Waiting till cancer is obvious makes the cure much difficult and leads to horrible treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation.

If found early, doctors can perform simple surgeries to remove the cancer before it metastasizes into more advanced terminal stages.

Cancer is the worldwide cause of death and by 2030, 13 million people are predicted to die from cancer.

A simple blood test may have been discovered that correctly identifies at least 8 cancers with the hope for many more to be added.

 

The Discovery

John Hopkins University cancer research department developed a blood test they have named CancerSEEK.  Their findings were published in the journal Science.

Here’s how it works. When cancerous tumors develop in the human body they release small fragments of mutated DNA and specific proteins into the bloodstream. CancerSEEK was designed to find those cancer markers inside people’s blood. At it’s initial develop the test can identify markers for 16 different mutations along with 8 unique proteins. There are 8 different cancers the test has been able to identify: breast, lung, colorectal, ovarian, liver, stomach, pancreatic, and esophageal. Currently, there are no tests that can identify early stages of those last 5 cancers.

The promise of the test can greatly reduce the scare cancer brings most individuals and families. Those with a family history of cancer have the ability to be screened early.

“This has the potential to substantially impact patients. Earlier detection provides many ways to improve outcomes for patients,” says study co-author Dr. Anne Marie Lennon.

 

The Research Study

Johns Hopkins gathered a group of 1005 patients with confirmed cancer diagnoses. These were non-metastatic cancers, meaning they had not spread beyond their origin point. They were convinced by the science behind the test but needed to see if CancerSEEK could correctly identify cancer where they already knew it existed.

The results were staggering. The blood test was able to identify 70% of all cancers in the patients. Breast cancer had the lowest success rate at 30%, but ovarian cancer had the highest success with 98% being identified.

The test only produced 7 false positives. This element of the test was extremely good news. Many of the testing procedures today do lead to a high number of false positives. False positives lead to much more invasive testing by surgeon and oncologists. With such a low number of false positives, researchers believe this will effective as a diagnostic tool and reduce costs for patients.

The other surprising discovery was that CancerSEEK could specifically identify the location for 83% of the cancer in the patient’s body. Knowing the location gives doctors the ability to remove the diseased tissue without disturbing other areas of the body and improving recovery.

 

Future Impact

“This test represents the next step in changing the focus of cancer research from late-stage disease to early disease, which I believe will be critical to reducing cancer deaths in the long-term.” Dr. Bert Vogelstein, Johns Hopkins University

Researchers believe the impact of this test will greatly improve the terminal nature of cancer. Cancer can be detected much earlier and can be removed. Chemotherapy and radiation are expensive treatments and often do as much harm to the patients as the cancer itself. By detecting early, cancer can be cured and relapses can be eliminated.

Also the researchers now understand the gaps in the testing and are hopeful the testing will continue to improve with much more accuracy for all cancers.

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