A team of researchers has announced that a new blood test can be used to detect over 50 types of cancer leading to early detection of the fatal disease.
It is based on DNA that is shed by tumors and can be found in the blood. The test looks into the chemical changes in this DNA also called methylation patterns. As per the experts, this test will not only tell if a person has cancer but will also tell what type of cancer.
“You need to use a test like this in an independent group at risk of cancer to actually show that you can find the cancers, and figure out what to do about it when you find them,” said Dr. Geoffrey Oxnard, part of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.
The team has written in the Annals of Oncology journal that the test was created with the help of a machine learning algorithm; systems that detect patterns within data and classify them. In the start, they showed the system the DNA patterns taken from 2,800 patients, and then again from 3,052 people out which 1,531 had cancer and the rest didn’t.
The system, with the help of this information, classified samples based on the patterns. Oxnard said, “In pregnant women, we look in their free-floating DNA for foetal abnormalities,” and added, “We know this [approach] exists, the question is how do you fine-tune and perfect the art of looking for cancer in this free-floating DNA? And that is what the machine learning did.”
In the next stage, they fed the system samples of 1,264 people with 50% of them having cancer. Interestingly, the results showed that less than 1% of those who didn’t have cancer getting wrongly diagnosed as having the disease. “It is really important you don’t tell non-cancer patients they have cancer,” said Oxnard.
Head of early detection at Cancer Research UK, Dr David Crosby said that discovering cancer at an early stage was crucial as they are less aggressive and can be treated, “And if the test can be fine-tuned to be more efficient at catching cancers in their earliest stages, it could become a tool for early detection.”
Crosby added, “More research is needed to improve the test’s ability to catch early cancers and we still need to explore how it might work in a real cancer screening scenario.”