Researchers at Johns Hopkins University have developed a noninvasive blood test that can detect signs of eight different types of cancer before patients begin to experience symptoms.
The researchers, who dubbed the new diagnostic CancerSEEK, outlined the test in an article published Thursday in the journal Science.
In addition to identifying the type of cancer, CancerSEEK can direct physicians toward the cancer's location in a patient’s body. They say it is a first-of-its-kind test that looks for a range of cancers, including cancer of the ovary, liver, stomach, pancreas, esophagus, colon, lung and breast.
Those forms of the disease represent more than 60% of cancer deaths in the U.S., they said. Five of those cancers—ovarian, liver, stomach, pancreatic and esophageal—don’t currently have screening tests.
“The goal is to look for as many cancer types as possible in one test, and to identify cancer as early as possible,” Nickolas Papadopoulos, team leader and a professor of oncology and pathology at Johns Hopkins, told the Los Angeles Times. “We know from the data that when you find cancer early, it is easier to kill it by surgery or chemotherapy.”
The test focuses on two signals that a person might be harboring cancer by looking for 16 telltale genetic mutations in bits of free-floating DNA that have been deposited in the bloodstream by cancerous cells. Additionally, CancerSEEK looks for eight proteins that are usually found in higher quantities in the blood samples of people who have cancer.
The researchers said the test’s results show it is more effective at finding some types of cancer than others and that it is better at detecting later stage cancer compared with cancer in earlier stages. CancerSEEK was able to spot cancer 78% of the time in people who had been diagnosed with stage 3 cancer, 73% of the time in people with stage 2 cancer and 43% of the time in people diagnosed with stage 1 cancer.
CancerSEEK isn’t expected to be available for the public for at least a year, Papadopoulos said.