Early detection of cancers is crucial because survival is significantly enhanced when the disease can be treated in its early stages and tumours can be removed Photo: AFP/File
health

Blood test finds cancers before standard diagnosis: study

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By CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN

A blood test has been shown to detect five types of cancer years before the diseases could be spotted using conventional diagnostic methods, according to a study.

Developed by a Sino-U.S. startup, the test found cancers in 91 percent of people who showed no symptoms when the blood sample was collected but were diagnosed one-to-four years later with stomach, esophageal, colon, lung or liver cancer, researchers reported in Nature Communications.

"The immediate focus is to test people at higher risk, based on family history, age or other known risk factors," said co-author Kun Zhang, head of the bioengineering department at the University of California San Diego and an equity holder in Singlera Genomics, which developed the test.

Early detection of cancers is crucial because survival is significantly enhanced when the disease can be treated in its early stages and tumours can be removed, whether surgically, with drugs or with radiation.

To date, however, there are few effective early screening tests available.

Researchers examined blood samples from more than 600 individuals enrolled in a 10-year health survey of 120,000 people in China, conducted between 2007 and 2017. The monitoring program included regular blood samples.

For 191 patients diagnosed with cancer, the scientists used the new test to analyze blood samples taken up to four years earlier.

They separately detected cancer -- with 88 percent accuracy -- of 113 patients who were already diagnosed when the blood samples were collected.

The technique, developed over a decade, is designed to detect asymptomatic disease based on a biological process called DNA methylation analysis, which screens for DNA signatures specific to different cancers.

More large-scale studies across long time periods are needed to confirm the potential of the test for early cancer detection, the authors cautioned.

Half of the 32 authors either work for Singlera Genomics, are co-inventors of patents related to the test or hold equity in the company.

Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for nearly 10 million deaths a year.

In 2018, lung cancer caused 1.76 million deaths, colon cancer 862,000, stomach cancer 783,000, liver cancer 782,000, and esophageal cancer 508,000, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

© 2020 AFP

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

3 Comments
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This is very encouraging news. If it can be done cheaply, it will save a lot of lives.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

For those that want to see the study

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-020-17316-z

It is promising, but not in a condition to be used as it is right now. The test has a good sensitivity of around 95%, so it would detect 19 out of 20 cases of these types of cancer even without symptoms. The problem is that its specificity is only from 92 to 98%, this is very important because it is supposed to be used on healthy patients so a lot of tests would be performed. If for example 1000 patients undergo the test, 20 to 80 of them would give a positive result even if no cancer would be found later, those 20 to 80 patients would be under the suspicion of having a hidden cancer growing without a real need. And if the patients get one test every year as part of a normal health check the probability of getting a false positive would increase with every year.

Still, it is a very good development based on a type of analysis that get cheaper and cheaper every year, if it is gets tuned up to avoid false positives it may very well become the standard of care for people having risk factors for cancer.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

VERY encouraging news! Maybe we will be able to eliminate all cancers in the future. But we still won't be able to cure the common cold yet : )

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