Blood test effectively reveals cancer years before the first symptoms


The earlier the disease is detected, the better the prospects for a patient.

Researchers have developed a new blood test that may detect certain types of cancer up to four years before the first symptoms appear. It is a promising test. Because it means that the chance of survival is a lot bigger.

The new blood test, called PanSeer and published in the journal Nature, is not a very drastic treatment. But its potential is great. The test can accurately reveal five common types of cancer – namely gastric, esophageal, colon, lung and liver cancer – at a very early stage. “People often don’t go to the doctor until the symptoms are clear or severe enough,” says researcher Kun Zhang “But tumor growth is likely to occur long before it is noticed.”

In the study, the researchers performed the blood test on 605 asymptomatic individuals. Later, 191 of them were diagnosed with cancer. The PanSeer test correctly and in some cases even four years before the actual diagnosis detected the five types of cancer mentioned in 91 percent of cases. The researchers emphasize that the test therefore does not predict who will develop cancer later. These people probably already had a degree of cancer growth but did not yet have the associated complaints.

Thus, the test can successfully detect a variety of cancers at a very early stage. And that is encouraging. “It greatly increases the chances of survival,” says Zhang. Because if the disease is detected at an early stage, a tumor can soon be removed surgically or treated with medicines. And that means that the outlook for a patient is a lot better.

How is it possible that the test can detect cancer so early? “In the body, some tumor cells can die for various reasons,” Zhang explains when asked. “For example, when there is a lack of nutrients, or if they are attacked by our immune system. When they die, these cells release their DNA and some of that DNA ends up in the blood. By capturing and identifying such DNA molecules, cancer can therefore be detected at an early stage. ”

Other types of cancer
At the moment, the promising blood test focuses only on stomach, esophagus, colon, lung and liver cancer. But it may not stop there. “We have pre-compiled a list of 500 cancer-specific signatures in terms of DNA methylation or chemical modification of the DNA,” said Zhang. “We then looked specifically for such signs in the blood. This is why the blood test can detect the five types of cancer mentioned. However, PanSeer can also detect other cancers simply by looking for signatures specific to the type of cancer of interest. ”

The ultimate goal is to routinely perform such blood tests during annual health checks. But whether that will actually happen is the question. It is probably very expensive to screen everyone regularly. Therefore, people at higher risk should be tested primarily, for example based on family history, age, or other known risk factors.

Although PanSeer has successfully passed the first fire test, we are not there yet. Indeed, more research is needed to confirm the test’s ability to detect cancers at an early stage. “It will take at least another three to five years before the test can actually be used regularly in hospitals,” says Zhang. In any case, the first results are promising. In addition, it means that hopefully in the future, cancer will become a disease that is faster and more treatable. “I was surprised at how strong cancer-specific signatures are,” says Zhang. “If you only know what to look for.”

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