The diagnostic tools doctors use to detect cancer are more efficient and effective than ever, but they can be quite invasive and require a lot of equipment. These are bigger drawbacks than may seem at first glance, as the invasiveness of colonoscopies, pap smears, and mammograms discourage patients from doing them, whereas the necessity for equipment can make these diagnostic tools inaccessible to many people. In addition, many cancers can only be detected once the first symptoms already occur, which is often too late.
Thus, the need for better diagnostic tools for different cancer types is still crucial and urgent. One new blood test developed by American and British researchers published in the journal Annals of Oncology promises to make cancer diagnosis much easier. The researchers claim that the test is capable of detecting over 50 cancer types with incredible accuracy, often even before the first symptoms develop.
How Does This Test Work?
As revolutionary as it may sound, this test will indeed be capable of detecting a very large percentage of cancers at a very early stage with new levels of accuracy. Even rare and particularly dangerous cancers that are typically very difficult to identify before the first symptoms show up, like cervical or lung cancer, will be distinguished by a single blood draw with this novel blood test.
But how is this even possible?
The combination of computational technologies and DNA testing is the key. The novel test is based on a previous finding that the DNA of cells affected by cancer is altered by chemicals of the methyl group, and different combinations of these chemicals and the location of the methylation on the DNA double helix could point to a specific type of cancer.
What many of you do not know is that this DNA altered by cancer isn’t just localized in the affected cells themselves, some of it is absorbed into the bloodstream. This type of DNA, also referred to as cell-free DNA or cfDNA, is exactly what the novel cancer test is isolating, so there is no need to do a biopsy and access the tumor itself. After isolating the methylation patterns of the cfDNA in the lab, the test results are fed into a computer, which goes through a series of complex computations and subsequently matches the methylation patterns to the type of cancer a person might have.
How Accurate Is This Test?
Although the study authors are still confirming their previous trial results in a larger population study, so far the results are truly impressive. After testing blood samples of over 4,000 people, some of whom had cancer, and some who didn’t, the results of the test were accurate in detecting cancer 93% of the time. The researchers tested more than 50 types of cancer in the study, and for these cancers, the test managed to detect where the cancer had originated in the body in 96% of cases.
The accuracy is unprecedented, and the researchers have estimated that less than 1% of patients would receive an inaccurate cancer diagnosis, much lower compared to many current cancer screenings. As the senior authors of the study explained to Medical News Today, the test provides the “ability to detect multiple deadly cancer types with a single test that has a very low false-positive rate, and the ability to identify where in the body the cancer is located with high accuracy to help healthcare providers to direct next steps for diagnosis and care.”
Ultimately, this test could become the new, easier screening tool for multiple cancers that can be implemented more than current cancer screenings and save countless lives every year. As of now, it’s unknown when the test will become available, but we are sure to keep you up to date with any further developments regarding this revolutionary test.