'Breakthrough' blood test could detect cancer years before you fall ill

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A simple blood test could detect up to 10 forms of the disease in people, researchers have said.

The test also detected pancreatic cancer with 80 percent accuracy, hepatobiliary cancer (cancer of the liver, bile duct or gallbladder) with 80 percent accuracy, lymphoma with 77 percent accuracy, multiple myeloma (a cancer of white blood cells) with 73 percent accuracy and colorectal cancer with 66 percent accuracy. It could one day save millions of lives, if doctors can use it for cancer screening on patients that show no symptoms. One of the issues is the blood-brain barrier that protects the brain. Therefore, if further research proves successful and the test starts to be used, it could allow doctors to screen patients for certain kinds of cancer, potentially saving many lives.

The findings will be presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting in Chicago this weekend.

The research scrutinised the cases of more than 1,600 people, 749 of whom were cancer-free at the time of the study, with no diagnosis, and 878 of whom had been newly diagnosed with a disease. But academics say it is much more sensitive than previous tests. Finally, it will be important to establish how good this test is at identifying patients with the earliest stage of cancer.

More than 360,000 people in the United Kingdom are diagnosed with cancer each year, meaning that one person is told they have the disease every two minutes.

The new test has three parts, testing the whole genome for DNA fragments first, then searching for specific genetic mutations and finally DNA methylation – a process that changes the way genes work when someone has cancer.

He said: "Far too many cancers are picked up too late, when it is no longer possible to operate and the chances of survival and slim".

The non-invasive DNA blood test isn't yet ready to use in practice, but the test would enable cancers to be detected in the early stages, before symptoms begin, when treatment is more likely to succeed.

It is part of a new generation of ‘liquid biopsies' that have advantages for early detection of cancer over traditional biopsies which remove tissue, such as part of the breast or lung, from the body.

Pancreatic cancer is usually diagnosed when the cancer is too advanced to be operated on, said Dr. Chris Abbosh, a clinical research associate at University College London's Cancer Institute.

Simon Stevens, head of NHS England, said that such advances put the health service on the "cusp of a new era".