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Health

Blood Test for Cancer Is ‘Enormously Exciting’ Breakthrough, Say Scientists

A team of scientists in the UK have announced what could be the “Holy Grail” of medicine — a universal blood test that could detect eight of the most common cancers at their early stages.

The blood test, known as CancerSEEK, has been trialled by the team at John Hopkins University in London. 

It was tested on just over 1,000 patients who have already been diagnosed with cancers in the ovary, liver, stomach, pancreas, oesophagus, colon, lung, or breast, that hadn’t spread to other tissues.

And it was successful at detecting the cancers on average 70% of the time — ranging from 98% for ovarian cancer to 33% for breast cancer, according to the report published in  Science  journal. 

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“This is of massive potential,” Dr Gerhardt Attard, team leader in the Centre for Evolution and Cancer at the Institute of Cancer, in London, told the BBC .

“I’m enormously excited. This is the Holy Grail — a blood test to diagnose cancer without all the other procedures like scans or colonoscopy,” he said. 

The idea, when the test is further developed, would be to test people annually, with the aim of catching more cancers early and saving more lives. 

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Five of the eight cancers it can detect currently have no early screening process, so a universal blood test could revolutionise how cancer is detected. 

In fact, in pancreatic cancer, there are so few symptoms and the cancer is normally detected so late, that four in every five patients die in the year they are diagnosed. 

But more work is needed to assess how effective the test can be, with the next step being to trial the test in people who haven’t yet been diagnosed. 

Professor Richard Marais, from Cancer Research UK, told the BBC it would take at least five or six years to prove it worked as an early diagnosis. 

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The test detects the small traces of mutated DNA and proteins that tumours release into the blood stream. It looks for mutations in 16 genes that arise in cancer, and eight proteins that are often released. 

“This field of early detection is critical,” Dr Cristian Tomasetti, from John Hopkins University School of Medicine, told the BBC. 

“I think this can have an enormous impact on cancer mortality,” he said. 

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