New Cancer Test Can Diagnose The Disease Before Any Symptoms Appear


NY Times
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Cancer is a demon and one that you do not even notice until too late. Billions of dollars are spent on cancer research every year, but every time the monster strikes, it leaves thousands helpless in an incurable stage. Scientists have developed a new cancer test that can diagnose the disease in its early stages and stop it right in its tracks. The early cancer diagnosis research was presented at a cancer conference in Chicago.

All the body cells release some sort of information into the bloodstream, either through secretion or as they die. How would cancerous tumors not? All we need is to look for the right things. Blood tests that look for “circulating tumor DNA” can diagnose many types of cancers and their location, way before the symptoms appear. Scientists say that a simple blood test can be added to the regular health checks, and eliminate the need for painful biopsies and physical exams. The likelihood of survival is much higher in patients whose cancer is diagnosed in early stages, so this test can easily save thousands of lives.

Yale University

A professor of oncology at John Hopkins school of Medicine, Dr. Bert Vogelstein commented, “It’s fair to say that if you could detect all cancers while they are still localized, you could diminish cancer deaths by 90 per cent.”

Some types of cancer show distinct effects, but some are difficult to diagnose due to vague results that sometimes refer to other illnesses. Dr. Nicholar Turner from Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) in London and Royal Marsden Hospital in London explained that if the test can pick up half of the lung, ovarian, and pancreatic cancer diagnosis, we would be much higher than the current situation. He also commented, “The cancer community is extremely excited about the potential [of blood tests] but whether that potential can be achieved is not clear enough yet.”

The DNA analysis method for cancer used in this test is not new, but currently, it is being used to tailor treatments for people in later stages of cancer where the disease has spread too much. The researchers are now tailoring the same tests for an early diagnosis when there are no symptoms.

The early cancer diagnosis research is mostly supported by US firm Grail, backed by millions of dollars of funding from Bill Gates, and Jeff Bezos. The firm has announced 2019 as the planned date for the release of the cancer test. In the long run, the test will become a part of the regular health checks to identify cancer and stop it in the tracks, saving many lives. One issue facing researchers is that of the cancer test returning false positives. This would be when people are thought to have cancer when they do not. These false positive results are more likely in older patients who naturally would shed genetic mutation information into their blood but might not necessarily have cancer.

One problem with the tests is that it is returning false positives; identifying cancer even when it is not there. This kind of false results is more likely to appear in older patients who shed genetic mutation information into the blood despite not having cancer.

Associate professor of medical oncology at Royal Melbourne and Western Hospital in Australia, Peter Gibbs worked on the recent studies in this field and says that these early stage cancer tests are at least 3 years away.

We sure do hope to see the tests around soon enough.

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