Most of us are aware of the terrible intrusive way in which the deadly Cancer is diagnosed – biopsy. The needle is pushed into the solid tumor and then, the collected sample is tested for cancer. It’s terribly painful, and even if there is anesthetics, it is intrusive, for just a test. Maybe we could find a better way out.
Well, we did. Just a blood test is enough for us to detect cancer. Not all cancers though, but some of the major ones: esophageal, lung, ovarian, breast, bowel, pancreatic, and stomach cancers. It is called CancerSEEK. The test detects certain kinds of proteins and DNA that are released by cancer cells into the bloodstream. It is also called a liquid biopsy. Early diagnosis is quite possible with this test. Plus, it rarely gives out false positives. It can be done alongside other common tests like cholesterol checkups.
But while it is accurate, it requires more research. It is not used in clinics yet.
How does it work?
Our cells send out DNA and proteins in our bloodstreams. Cancer cells are able to do so too, but their abnormal proteins and mutated DNA have a unique signature. The blood test is sensitive and can detect one such ‘mutated’ DNA from ten thousand normal DNA strands. That makes it special.
CancerSEEK was used on more than 1,000 people with different types of cancer. Ovary, esophageal, and stomach cancers were detected over 70% of the time. No proper screening tests are currently available for any of these cancer types.
Now, the blood test not only detected that individuals had cancer, it was also able to detect the type of cancer about 83% of the time. The study was published in the Science journal. A team from John Hopkins University led the study. They collaborated with Australian scientists from Walter and Eliza Hall Institute.
Significance of this research
There are many benefits of the blood test if it is put out in the clinics. Firstly, cancer is a deadly disease which can still be cured if it is diagnosed in the early stages. Since the blood test will detect DNA and protein samples in the blood, early diagnosis remains a possibility. Plus, by noting the pattern, one can identify what kind of cancer it is. So, if bowel cancer cells are found, then the doctors could go for a colonoscopy. There will be no over-diagnosis. The problem with over-diagnosis is not only a waste of time, but also that cancer tests are very uncomfortable and extremely intrusive. Most people do not want to go through it. Plus, certain ‘cancer-like’ symptoms do not always mean cancer. The accuracy of the blood test will help to stop forcing non-cancer afflicted people from going through such rigorous tests.
As of now, there is no such effective cancer screening present. One of it is for prostate cancer, which is the PSA (prostate-specific antigen). But it is very limited and not quite accurate. Some claim is doing more harm than good.
What are the prospects of the blood test?
Trials with CancerSEEK continues in the US. The results have not yet been compared with a control group. As with every trial, there has to be a control group. So, we have to just sit tight and wait. Hopefully, we might be getting positive news after 3-5 years.
Let’s hope for the best.
IMAGE CREDIT: luchschen