Developing a universal blood test for cancer has been one of the biggest goals in medicine ever and now scientists at John Hopkins University have taken a huge step towards achieving it.
The team have trialled a test that can detect eight common forms of cancer, with the ultimate goal being to develop an annual test that can catch cancers early and save lives.
While more work is needed, experts in the UK have described the breakthrough as “enormously exciting”.
The test works by picking up on tiny traces of mutated DNA and proteins released into a person’s bloodstream by tumours. The CancerSEEK test, as it is known, looks for mutations in 16 genes and eight different proteins released by tumours.
In a trial involving 1,005 patients with cancers in the stomach, liver, ovary, pancreas, colon, oesophagus, lung or breast, which had not yet spread to other tissues, the test was able to successfully detect 70% of the cancers.
The test is particularly exciting as it was able to detect some cancers that currently have no early detection screening programmes.
Pancreatic cancer is one area where the test could really make a big difference. At present, four in five pancreatic cancer patients die within the year they are diagnosed. That’s because the disease emits so few symptoms and sufferers are often diagnosed too late.
The CancerSEEK test will now be trialled on individuals who have not been diagnosed with cancer. This will be the real measure of its effectiveness and usefulness.