Scientists at the Stanford University School of Medicine published a study, April 6, in “Nature Medicine,” revealing that cancer may now be detected through a simple, ultra-sensitive, blood test. Doctors would be able to use the test to screen for cancer, as well as for monitoring its treatment, all without the use of radiation. The test should prove to revolutionize the way we identify cancer. In the future, the blood test could replace the necessity for biopsies, and reduce the amount of time that cancer-sufferers have to wait, in order to find out their results.
The test works by looking through the bloodstream for DNA from cancer tumors. Research has shown that the DNA from tumors is a bio-marker for cancer. Up until now, one of the most pressing issues for scientists was that DNA was hard to detect, due to the extremely small amount that tumors shed. But, as modern technology progresses, Dr. Maximilian Diehn, MD, PhD, assistant professor of radiation oncology, at the Stanford University School of Medicine, is now able to detect significantly smaller amounts of DNA, than in the past. That, coupled with the ability to examine large sections of the DNA, in search for mutations caused by tumors, will open a world of new doors for cancer sufferers and scientists, alike. Another plus for researchers is the amount of money the blood test saves. Current techniques used to detect tumor DNA have proven to be tedious and costly, and many are even inaccessible to patients altogether.
In the most recent studies, scientists used the blood tests to identify patients with lung cancer – specifically, non-small-cell lung cancers. Scientists were able to detect 100 percent of patients suffering from more advanced cancer, (stage two or higher). They were also able to spot early stage cancer, (stage one), about 50 percent of the time. Diehn, and other researchers, remain hopeful that DNA will be detectable in as many cases as possible.
The technique researchers are using has been named, CAPP-seq, meaning Cancer Personalized Profiling by deep sequencing. When cancer cells die, DNA is discharged into the blood stream. The test is precise enough to pinpoint even a meager one molecule of DNA from any given tumor. However, the test is not foolproof yet. While there is much excitement with the success of detecting cancer through a simple blood test, researchers at Stanford continue to work hard at advancing the test for lung cancer. They are also in the process of developing tests to identify other cancers. Eventually, they are hoping to have the capability to uncover such cancers as esophagus and pancreas cancers, lymphomas, and breast cancers.
One of the main goals of researchers is to have the ability to someday screen healthy, but at-risk populations. Optimism runs high among Stanford researchers that they will successfully improve the lung cancer test as a means for detecting more cases. But, when it comes down to simple science, only time will tell whether our technology can keep up with the disease, or if some tumor DNA will always remain elusive. The simple fact that cancer may now be detected by a blood test is proof of how far medical advancements have come. For now, researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine, will focus their fight on early detection, by improving CAPP-seq.
by Melissa A. White-Jantzen
UPI Health News
Stanford School of Medicine