Simple blood test heralds new era in cancer care

Alicia Farmer
June 4, 2018

A new liquid biopsy test could detect cancer years before symptoms are apparent, according to research presented today (June 1) at the American Society of Clinical Oncologists (ASCO) meeting in Chicago.

"Most cancers are detected at a late stage, but this "liquid biopsy" gives us the opportunity to find them months or years before someone would develop symptoms and be diagnosed".

"This is potentially the holy grail of cancer research, to find cancers that are now hard to cure at an earlier stage when they are easier to cure", says Dr. Eric Klein of Cleveland Clinic's Taussig Cancer Institute.

The findings represent a first look how a blood test for early-stage cancer would do at detecting lung cancer, the leading cause of cancer death in the United States often diagnosed at an advanced stage.

However, the number of patients in whom cancers were detected in the trials was small.

Klein and his research team (Stanford University) have conducted a study, in which they found that the test could detect pancreatic, ovarian, liver, and gallbladder cancers.

The test-a noninvasive blood draw followed by DNA screening-could lead to dramatic changes in cancer treatment, say researchers.

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Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, said such advances in medicine could "dramatically transform" care.

The test was administered on 749 cancer-free patients and 878 with newly diagnosed but untreated cancer. A number of different blood tests are also now used to check out things like blood cell count, liver and kidney function, and the presence of substances produced by tumors.

Between them, these diseases account for more than half of the cancer patients in the country.

Klein added: "It is several steps away and more research is needed, but it could be given to healthy adults of a certain age, such as those over 40, to see if they have early signs of cancer". Finally, it will be important to establish how good this test is at identifying patients with the earliest stage of cancer.

"When this test, or another like it, are ready for clinical use, it could be used as part of a universal screening program, with the potential to save many lives".

Grail's lung cancer data comes from a wider study that eventually aims to enroll 15,000 participants and cover 20 different types of cancers.

"While there's still a way to go before cell-free DNA from blood can be used for cancer detection on a broad scale, this research serves as a building block for the development of future tests".

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