Blood Test That Identifies a Dozen Cancers

Updated July 13, 2019

Two key problems in cancer treatment have been early detection and tracking the progression of the disease. If doctors did not detect if at an early stage, it compromised the work of vital organ systems, and if they didn’t carefully monitor its progression, it could spread throughout the body. 

Since methods for early detection and the technology for monitoring rate of change are essential for patient survival, it has become a major theme in cancer research. Initial detection of cancer allows for a quicker diagnosis and accurate tracking helps combat the disease.

A successful treatment plan depends not only on clinical testing and the physician’s observation but also on the active role the patient and their family play in following the treatment protocol. 

Blood Tests Offer a New Way to Track Cancer 

Oncologists have successfully tracked the progression of cancer through the use of CAT scans and biopsies for decades. While these are effective, scientists discovered they could use blood tests to monitor the disease to find out what treatment plans were working. 

When blood testing for cancer became the next generation technology, this immediately solved two problems: it proved less invasive than a biopsy and it reduced excessive radiation exposure from too many CAT scans.

This new cancer monitoring technology also worked better. It was more specific, and it gave doctors a better understanding of what was going on inside their patients.

In fact, molecular-level blood testing became so accurate that it was possible to find a single leukemia cell surrounded by a hundred thousand normal cells. 

Blood tests worked for leukemia cells because this is a blood cancer. The next breakthrough occurred when doctors detected blood cells that had broken away from a primary tumor and circulated in the bloodstream. 

Oncologists called these circulating tumor cells CTC’s and found it a remarkably effective method for detecting prostate, colon, and breast cancer.

When a medical technician put a small amount of blood, say 7 CC’s, through a flow cytometry machine it provided a highly accurate reckoning of how a cancer was progressing. 

This new methodology worked by allowing doctors to count the number of CTCs in a patient’s bloodstream to determine if a cancer treatment was working.

If the CTC count went up after a treatment, it showed that the patient was not responding to the treatment and a new treatment plan was necessary.

Conversely, if the CTC count went down after a treatment, it showed that the patient was responding well to the treatment and that it should be continued. 

This tracking system gave physicians a huge advantage in prostate and breast cancer treatments because both types metastasize quickly.

Although a blood test for detecting the rate of proliferation of cells provided an effective monitoring system for certain types of cancer. like prostate, breast, and colon, an advanced blood test for early cancer detection appeared to be decades away. Well, maybe not. 

New Blood Tests Can Now Detect Early Cancer 

According to an article in Fiercebiotech, a new breakthrough in early cancer detection through blood testing may be possible far sooner than anyone had imagined. 

Although this is fantastic news, it gets even better. Not only might it be possible to detect cancer early, but it might also be possible to detect 12 types of cancer with a single blood test

This medical breakthrough comes through GRAIL, Inc, which is a health care firm specializing in researching early cancer detection technologies. Research data from the Circulating Cell-free Genome Atlas (CCGA) study shows that the company’s technology can indeed detect cancer early.

Their CCGA data showed that the blood test could detect strong signals for cancer cells at an early stage with a 99% specificity. Also, the test could identify the tissue of origin. 

GRAIL’s blood testing technology can identify the following cancers responsible for 63% of cancer deaths in the US: 

  1. Anorectal cancer
  2. Colorectal cancer
  3. Esophageal cancer
  4. Gastric cancer
  5. Head and neck cancer
  6. Hormone receptor negative breast cancer
  7. Liver cancer 
  8. Lung cancer
  9. Ovarian cancer
  10. Pancreatic cancers
  11. Multiple myeloma
  12. Lymphoid neoplasms

New Hope for Early Cancer Detection 

There have been three significant scientific advances in detecting cancer and tracking its rate of progression in patients.

First, doctors used CAT scans and biopsies. Then, blood testing technology evolved to a point that made it possible to track the progression of a few types of cancers.

Now it appears that promising CCGA data suggests that a highly accurate blood test to detect cancer may be right around the corner. 

Currently, GRAIL is developing a medical technology that can detect malignancies early and identify the tumor of origin with a single blood test.

This technology has also accurately detected 12 common types of cancers. This is clearly a breakthrough in the world of cancer detection and treatment.

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