New blood test could be the ‘holy grail of cancer research’

A new blood test could detect symptoms of several types of cancers years before a person falls ill, scientists have said.

The test, called a "liquid biopsy", screens for 10 types of the disease by detecting trace amounts of DNA released into the bloodstream by cancer cells. New research on the liquid biopsy will be presented at the annual conference of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago, which began Thursday.

The new study analyzed blood samples from 878 people who were recently diagnosed with cancer and 749 people who did not have cancer.

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The ability to detect cancer before any visible symptoms also gives doctors a chance to address the cancer before it has spread throughout the body, and gives the patient a better chance at recovery.

'This is potentially the holy grail of cancer research, to find cancers that are now hard to cure at an earlier stage when they are easier to cure, ' said Dr Eric Klein, lead author of the research from the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. "We need more and more and more samples" to determine the true accuracy of the test.

In its trial stage, the test proved particularly successful in detecting genetic diseases, including pancreatic and ovarian cancers.

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It was 77% accurate in diagnosing lymphoma, 73% accurate for myeloma, and 80% accurate for liver and gallbladder cancers. Lung cancer and cancers of the head and neck trailed behind, with 59 and 56 percent detection rates.

Takabe noted that although the study included more than 1,600 patients, the number of patients with some types of cancers was quite small - for example, only about 10 patients in the study had ovarian cancer - which is another limitation of the study.

Still, the research shows promise in a blood-based approach to future cancer screening.

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