It is very difficult to diagnose cancer at an early stage, although it is very much desirable, due to lengthy diagnostic procedures and inability of patients to recognize the early warning signs. Early diagnosis of cancer allows patients to seek medical care, which is most effective while the cancer is still immature.
Hence, a faster, more convenient, and less costly method of diagnosis was needed which could identify whether a person is suffering from cancer or not. Now, scientists have come up with just that: a blood test which can identify some of the most dangerous forms of cancer.
A Tumor Taints the Blood
A cancerous tumor is not very tidy, and sheds DNA and other particles into the bloodstream of the patient. A study conducted by researchers at the John Hopkins University tested this theory in over 1,005 cancer patients. They took blood samples and looked for any remnants of the cancerous tumor within it. 70% of the time, they were able to detect the cancer from these remnants within the bloodstream. Eight types of cancers were detectable, however the most difficult to detect were breast tumors and the easiest to detect were tumors in the ovaries, liver, and pancreas.
The blood test was able to diagnose cancer originating from only a couple of possible areas in the body, such as the colon or the lung, which meant that further studies would require testing in only the areas narrowed down by the initial blood test. To ensure the blood test was not giving false results, such as detecting cancerous residue in the blood of those who did not, in fact, have cancer, the study conducted the test on 812 those people who did not have cancer. In that test, the blood test failed in only 7 of those cases.
Still in Testing Phase
According to lead researcher Nickolas Papadopoulos, this is only the first step in what would ultimately become a simple blood test that would be able to diagnose cancer. Further research and testing is required to ensure it works without fail before it is released to the public.
However, those who have independently tested the new cancer diagnostic method are very positive about this new blood test. According to Dr. Peter Bach, who is an expert in health policy at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre, any cancer diagnostic method that can detect cancer over 50% of the time is good enough to apply in practice.
Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, who is the deputy chief medical officer at the American Cancer Society, also views the blood test as a “significant advancement” in the field of medical science. According to him, any test that can detect ovarian cancer in its early stages correctly over 98% of the time is a medical revolution. However, even he cautioned against that further testing is required.
What Does the Test Detect in a Patient’s Blood?
When a patient is suffering from cancer, there are over eight proteins and 16 genes which show irregularities in the blood stream whenever cancer is present anywhere in the body. The test can detect the most common types of cancers, such as lung, colon, and breast cancer.
It is also able to detect ovarian, liver, pancreatic, esophageal, and stomach cancers even in those whose cancers are still pose average risks. This is important because current screening tests are not able to detect these cancers in their infancy, which, of course, delays treatment.
Previous testing was performed on those who were already suffering from cancer, which meant the outcome of the test is still not conclusive. To get conclusive results, scientists are now studying the blood test on a sample of over 10,000 patients at the Geisinger Health System, situated in Pennsylvania, and these patients will be tracked for five years to observe the accuracy of the blood test.
How Much Will It Cost?
Considering the outcome, many organizations are funding the research towards the testing of this new diagnostic tool to make it available to the public as soon as possible. However, the blood test is expected to cost around $500 in its current form, which would not be affordable by the masses. Mayo Clinic and the National Institutes of Health are funding the program to ensure that when the test reaches the market, it is commercially viable.