It's still in the early stages, but a new blood test for the early detection of cancer has delivered promising results, say researchers.
The test searches blood samples for small bits of DNA, which are shed by dying cancer cells into the bloodstream. In the recent study of 124 patients with advanced cancers, the test was able to detect at least one genetic change in 89 percent of the people who were studied.
The study results were presented at the 2017 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting in June.
The test has been referred to as a "liquid biopsy," but it differs from those tests, which only study a small part of the genetic material of already-diagnosed patients. The goal in that case it to monitor the disease for treatment.
In this case, the test scans a broad area of the genome, resulting in about 100 times more data than other sequencing approaches, according to the researchers. The test scans blood samples for mutations in 508 genes, with each region of the genome sequenced or "read" 60,000 times.
And although in this early stage, the test scanned blood samples for DNA in people already diagnosed with cancer, the researchers hope to develop a test for people who have no symptoms and have not been diagnosed with the disease.
"Our findings show that high-intensity circulating tumor DNA sequencing is possible and may provide invaluable information for clinical decision-making, potentially without any need for tumor tissue samples," lead study author Dr. Pedram Razavi of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, said in a statement. "This study is also an important step in the process of developing blood tests for early detection of cancer."
“We continue to see promising reports about possible uses of circulating tumor DNA analysis," said American Society of Clinical Oncology's John Heymach, M.D, Ph.D. "While this approach has a ways to go before it becomes a proven technology for early cancer detection, this research is an important step in that direction.”