Cancer Predictions From Blood Testing


Harvard and Northeastern University researchers have reported findings of a distinct correlation between blood telomeres and cancer. Studies have indicated that blood telomeres in people with cancer actually age at a much faster rate, but then completely stop aging three to four years prior to a diagnosis. Therefore, it could be possible that, in the near future, cancer predictions could be made from a simple blood test.

Telomeres are DNA sequences that protect the ends of chromosomes from deterioration or fusing with neighboring chromosomes. To get a better understanding of telomeres, they can be compared to the plastic bit at the end of a shoelace. The purpose the plastic bit serves is to keep the shoelace from becoming frayed or damaged at the end. Telomeres are the plastic bits and chromosomes are the shoelaces.

As humans age, their telomeres shorten in length. By the time a person reaches the age of adulthood, telomeres are half the length that they were when that person was born. As a person reaches an elderly age, their telomeres are again half the length they were at the time when that person had become an adult.

Scientists use blood telomeres as markers of age, biologically, but have noticed the change they undergo within people who develop the disease. Previous studies of blood telomeres in relation to the disease have all resulted in inconsistent conclusions. Meaning, people with cancer have been found to have long telomeres, short telomeres or showing no actual link, whatsoever.

Researchers decided to go about these studies differently, by watching the changes that telomeres make over a period of time rather than just studying snapshots. That is when the distinct correlation between telomeres and cancer was discovered.

It was found that a specific pattern, in regards to blood telomeres changing in length, can be the factor that enables the prediction of cancer years before a diagnosis could be made. The pattern discovered is a very fast paced length shortening of blood telomeres followed by three to four years of no change. Testing blood will be able to reveal this occurrence, thus allowing a cancer prediction to be made. That pattern could be used as a marker in order to determine the very first signs of cancer developments. Treatment at that stage could possibly be the answer for lengthening the measurements of the blood telomeres, avoiding an actual diagnosis.

When researchers conducted their study, it consisted of measuring the telomere lengths, of the 792 participants involved, multiple different times over a time span of 13 years. Out of that group, 135 people eventually developed various forms of cancer, like prostate, lung, skin and leukemia. Those who developed the disease had blood telomeres that appeared to be similar to those of a person 15 years older, compared to the participants who did not develop disease. The surprising factor that was shared by all participants who developed the disease was their telomeres completely stopped aging or changing three to four years prior to their diagnosis.

Now the only question scientists need to answer is how the disease has the ability to cause telomeres to stop changing, because it is only when telomeres fail to continue to change over time that cancer becomes diagnosable. With the ability to predict cancer from blood testing could save the lives of billions. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences of the National Institutes of Heath has provided the funding for this research study.

By Kameron Hadley


Science Alert

Medical News Today

Chicago Sun Times

Photo By Thirteen Of Clubs- Creativecommons Flickr License

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