Liquid biopsy blood tests could detect cancer early

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A blood test could one day save millions by allowing doctors to screen for cancer before patients show symptoms.

The test screens for the disease by detecting tiny fragments of DNA released by cancer cells into the bloodstream. Many health experts are acclaiming the new blood test calling it as a holy grail of cancer research.

That study was carried out in a trial comprising of more than 1,600 people.

One of the tests, which used sequencing to detect non-hereditary mutations, performed the best. One of the issues is the blood-brain barrier that protects the brain.

The liquid biopsy uses three tests to search for DNA signatures in a patient's blood that indicate the presence of various types of cancer.

The test was less precise for lung, esophageal, and head and neck cancers, detecting these cancers with about 50 to 60 percent accuracy.

However, most of the patients find out they have cancer when they start showing signs. They have identified a new kind of blood test that can determine the presence of 10 different cancers long before tumors even occur.

Dr. Eric Klein from the Taussig Cancer Institute at Cleveland Clinic in the United States led the research, which is to be presented at the annual conference of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago, the largest gathering of oncologists worldwide.

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However, it was less effective at detecting stomach, uterine and early-stage prostate cancer, the authors said.

The test's high sensitivity to pancreatic cancer is especially promising.

For cancer there is now just one blood test available to diagnose people before they find a lump or initial symptom – the notoriously unreliable PSA test for prostate cancer.

It is part of a new generation of "liquid biopsies" which have advantages for early detection of cancer over traditional biopsies which remove tissue, such as part of the breast or lung, from someone's body.

"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.

Doctors say it opens the possibility of treatment for cancers that are often hard or impossible to cure because they can not be detected early enough, saving more lives, and slashing medical costs.

"This particular test is really exciting but it is likely to be a few years before it is ready for clinical use".

Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, also welcomed the findings.