New Blood Test for Early Detection of 8 Major Cancer Types

Report: New blood test for early detection of 8 major cancer types
What does this mean for you?

You may have heard the recent hype about a new study in which a blood test was used for the early detection of 8 major cancer types. What does the study really mean and, more importantly, when will it impact you?

Our Rivkin Scientific Advisory Council, a group of scientific and clinical experts in the field of ovarian cancer, have provided insight on the new study. Here is their summary and commentary on the new report:

A study published in Science last week reported the development of a test called CancerSEEK to see if the researchers could detect several types of solid tumors at early stages. The researchers analyzed blood from patients with ovarian, liver, stomach, esophageal, pancreatic, colorectal, lung and breast cancer. They tested for mutations in genes known to promote cancer in the cell-free DNA — DNA from cancer cells that is present in the blood. The researchers also looked at levels of various protein biomarkers, including CA-125, in the blood. They used mutation and biomarker data along with machine learning algorithms to see if they could detect a positive cancer signal and pinpoint the location of the cancer (ovary, breast, etc.) in patients with known cancer. For several of the cancer types, they had promising results. However, as the tests are done in patients with known cancer, it is not clear how well the test would detect cancer in people who are not known to have cancer.

More work is needed to understand how well the test works to pick up cancer without giving too many false positives that can lead to unnecessary physical and psychological harm. It’s also unclear how well the test can actually pinpoint the location of the cancer in patients where the location of cancer is not known.

Overall, this is an interesting study that uses a combination of genetic, protein, and machine learning approaches to try to detect cancers at earlier stages — an unmet need for ovarian and other types of cancers. Though the results show promise, more work is needed to understand the effectiveness of this test both for the detection of the presence of cancer and pinpointing the location of the cancer. This type of research is important but it is too soon to assume that this will be clinically useful right now.

Reference: Cohen et al. (2018) Detection and localization of surgically resectable cancers with a multi-analyte blood test. Science. PMID: 29348365 DOI: 10.1126/science.aar3247

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