A Blood Test For Common Cancers Could Be In The Works

Ovarian cancer cell

A more sensitive blood test could one day detect early stages of cancers including ovarian cancer.Credit Eye of Science SPL

Something as simple as a blood test could reveal whether people have cancer or not. For instance, CancerSEEK was only successful about 40 percent of the time in patients with stage 1 cancers (the earliest stage).

The blood test, called CancerSEEK hunts for both the mutated DNA and the affected proteins in the body.

A research team headed by scientists at Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center has developed a multianalyte blood test that can screen for eight common forms of cancer and help to identify the tumor location. The test was able to find 70% of the cancers in the test population. In fact, the test showed a specifity of 99%, meaning that only one in hundred healthy individuals receive a false positive result.

The test is nowhere near ready for use yet.

"It's probably going to have a much bigger impact on tumours like pancreas cancer which are nearly always diagnosed late, rather than bowel cancer which we pick up a little bit earlier", he said.

But it can be like looking for "less than a needle" in a haystack, said Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society. "So the test will still miss a large proportion of cancers at the stage where we want to diagnose them".

Some independent experts saw great promise.

The researchers also wanted to be able to use the test results to predict the site of a tumor.

A radiologist examines mammography images in Wichita Falls, Texas.

"The test "has the potential to be a one-stop, safe screening test for multiple tumour types that should have high community acceptance", Tie was quoted as saying".

"I do not think that this new test has really moved the field of early detection very far forward", said Paul Pharoah, professor of cancer epidemiology at the University of Cambridge.

According to the authors, keeping the mutation panel small was essential to minimise false-positive results and keep a screening test affordable.

The test, called CancerSEEK, looks for faults in 16 genes and probes the levels of eight proteins usually released by sufferers.


Cancers were detected in the ovaries, liver, stomach, pancreas, esophagus, colorectal, lung and breast. Prostate cancer is not included. Other approved tests for detecting cancer, including colonoscopy, mammography, and cervical cytology, are not blood-based.

U.S. and Aussie researchers say their "liquid biopsy", dubbed CancerSEEK, will be a game changer in the fight against cancer, and hope it could be widely available within a few years.

The test was best at finding ovarian cancer, which it detected up to 98 percent of the time. So patients in a genuine screening likely would have less propelled illness and may be more hard to test.

The study was led by a team of USA researchers from Johns Hopkins University and involved 400 patients from Melbourne's Footscray Hospital.

The study had some limitations, including that the patients in the study already had been diagnosed with cancer, mostly based on symptoms.

The findings were published online by Science on January 18, 2018.

Cell biopsy studied under a microscope - the current way of detecting cancer.

The test costs about £360 (NZ$685) for each patient.

That's promising, Lennon said, because for any test to be useful for screening, its false-positive rate has to be low.

The company's chief executive, Atul Sharan, said USA studies should start this year.

"We are still evaluating the test, and it hasn't been commercialized yet".

Professor Gibbs said the test could one day reduce the number of people dying from cancer in Australia every year.

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