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Scientists have taken a step towards one of the biggest goals in medicine – a universal blood test for cancer. A team at Johns Hopkins University has trialled a method that detects eight common forms of the disease. Their vision is an annual test designed to catch cancer early and save lives.

Tumours release tiny traces of their mutated DNA and proteins they make into the bloodstream. The CancerSEEK test looks for mutations in 16 genes that regularly arise in cancer and eight proteins that are often released. It was trialled on 1,005 patients with cancers in the ovary, liver, stomach, pancreas, oesophagus, colon, lung or breast that had not yet spread to other tissues. Overall, the test found 70% of the cancers.

The earlier a cancer is found, the greater the chance of being able to treat it. Five of the eight cancers investigated have no screening programmes for early detection. In some cases, the test also provided information about the tissue-of-origin of the cancer. Pancreatic cancer has so few symptoms and is detected so late that four in five patients die in the year they are diagnosed. Finding tumours when they could still be treated could make a huge difference for the survival chances of patients.

CancerSEEK is now being trialled in people who have not been diagnosed with cancer, which will be the real test of its usefulness. The hope is it can complement other screening tools such as mammograms for breast cancer and colonoscopies for colorectal cancer as well treatment directive tests such as DiaTech developed by Pierian and funded by Keyholder. The CancerSEEK test is novel because it hunts for both the mutated DNA and the proteins.

This is very exciting and has the potential to be beneficial to the success of cancer treatments such as those currently being developed with Keyholder funding, by enabling earlier diagnosis and earlier treatment of cancers.

bbc news story