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New Blood Test Beats X-Rays, CT Scans at Detecting Early Cancer

Image: New Blood Test Beats X-Rays, CT Scans at Detecting Early Cancer
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By    |   Friday, 19 May 2017 01:11 PM

An exciting new blood test may be able to discover cancer recurrences a year before traditional scans. A team of U.K. researchers developed the test, which examines the blood for signs of cancer while it is still just a tiny cluster of cells invisible to X-ray or CT scans.

In a study of the test, outlined in the journal Nature, the researchers tracked samples taken from patients with lung cancer after the tumors were removed during surgery. The team analyzed the tumors’ defective DNA to create a genetic fingerprint of each of the patients’ cancers.

Then, blood tests were taken every three months to see if any traces of the cancerous DNA re-emerged. The study showed the test could identify the recurrent tumor signatures. What’s more, the recurrent tumors were almost microscopic – 0.3 cubic millimeters – when the blood test was able to catch them.

"We can identify patients to treat even if they have no clinical signs of disease, and also monitor how well therapies are working," said Dr. Christopher Abbosh, from the UCL Cancer Institute. By recognizing the cancer at a very early stage, it is easier to treat ore even cure, than after it has grown and become detectable via X-ray or CT scan.

"We can now set up clinical trials to ask the fundamental question – if you treat people's disease when there's no evidence of cancer on a CT scan or a chest X-ray can we increase the cure rate?" said Charles Swanton, from the Francis Crick Institute, in an interview with the BBC.

"We hope that by treating the disease when there are very few cells in the body that we'll be able to increase the chance of curing a patient."

A larger analysis, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed that genetic instability predicts whether lung cancer will return. Researchers found that tumors with more "chromosomal chaos" – the ability to reshuffle large amounts of their DNA – were those most likely to have a recurrence of lung cancer.

"You've got a system in place where a cancer cell can alter its behavior very rapidly by gaining or losing whole chromosomes or parts of chromosomes. It is evolution on steroids," Swanton told the BBC.

This allows the tumor to become drug resistant and hide from the immune system.

Researchers say they're only scratching the surface of the role DNA plays in cancer recurrences. The hope of their research, they say, is for drug development; by understanding the key role of chromosomal instability, scientists hope to find ways to stop it.

Janet Maitland, 65, is one of the patients involved in the study. Her husband died from lung cancer and she was diagnosed with the disease last year.

"It was my worst nightmare getting lung cancer, and it was like my worst nightmare came true, so I was devastated and terrified," Maitland said.

After having the tumor removed, she now has a 75 percent chance of being cancer free in five years, according to the blood test.

"It's like going from terror to joy, from thinking that I was never going to get better to feeling like a miracle's been acted," she said.

Experts say lung cancer relapses occur in up to half of patients. The new test has provided an early alert to 13 patients of a recurrence of lung cancer.

Dr. David Ahlquist, of the Mayo Clinic, said that all cancers, if detected early, can be cured. Alquist said scientists are working on a new approach that could potentially detect all cancers early. The “pan cancer test” would also be a blood test.

“Take a blood test and measure tumor-related markers and in our case we’re looking at DNA changes that are specifically acquired by tumors and using new analytical techniques now we can measure very, very tiny amounts of those markers in blood to detect even the earliest stages of cancer,” said Ahlquist.

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An exciting new blood test may be able to discover cancer recurrences a year before traditional scans. A team of U.K. researchers developed the test, which examines the blood for signs of cancer while it is still just a tiny cluster of cells invisible to X-ray or CT scans.
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2017-11-19
Friday, 19 May 2017 01:11 PM
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