While everyone wants to find a cure for cancer, the next best thing is early detection. There is exciting news on the cancer detection front, researchers have developed a new blood test that can detect eight common types, including the notoriously elusive liver and pancreatic cancers.
The test, called CancerSEEK, looks for a number of compounds in the blood that are thought to be early signs of cancer. These include 16 different cancer "driver genes" that are associated with tumors. CancerSEEK also looks for eight specific proteins present in cancerous growths. Moreover, the test can potentially detect five cancers which currently do not have available screening tests: Ovarian, stomach, esophageal, liver and pancreatic. These cancers usually do not display symptoms until they reach more advanced stages of the disease, when treatment is more difficult and less likely to succeed.
The hope is that, with further studies, doctors may be able to use this test to spot cancers in their early stages, before the onset of symptoms, thereby greatly improving patients' chances of survival. What differentiates the CancerSEEK test from previously developed blood tests for cancer screening is the simultaneous use of the two types indicators, genes and proteins, which gives a more accurate result across a wider range of cancers. The test uses an artificial-intelligence algorithm to analyze the combinations of genetic and protein markers found in the blood sample and identify which type of cancer the patient likely has.
This could be particularly important for general practitioners, who would be able to administer the test themselves, then send their patients for additional testing. For example, if the blood-test results suggest stomach cancer, a doctor could recommend the patient get an endoscopy to confirm the results, Cohen said. Similarly, test results pointing to colon cancer could lead to a colonoscopy.
“The sort of ultimate vision is that at the same time that you are getting your cholesterol checked when you are getting your annual physical, you will also get your blood screened for cancer," said lead study author Joshua Cohen, a medical and doctoral student at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
However, there is still a way to go before that vision becomes a reality. While the test has been proven to be about 70 to 98% percent accurate with more advanced cancers, in studies it still only detected cancer 40% of the time in less advanced cases, such as stage 1. Independent experts see this relatively low figure as the major weakness of the test. Even with stage 2, the accuracy was lower than doctors would like, at just 60%. That means the test would miss too large a number of people at the early stages when cancer would ideally be detected.
While there is still more research to be done, and more testing that needs to be completed, with increased sensitivity and accuracy, this type of testing may well save lives through early detection.Until that day, the best option is to maintain a regular relationship with your physician and get any irregularities checked out as soon as possible. Emerald Coast Medical Association has many excellent doctors as members, both general practitioners and specialists, to meet any medical needs. Click below to search our directory for a doctor that can help you maintain your health and wellness now and into the future.