A new blood test that can screen for eight common cancers is set to save millions of lives. The medical breakthrough will enable doctors to identify cancers in the early stages — before they've had the chance to spread throughout the body.
According to The Australian, the test, called CancerSEEK, is able to "uncover fledgling cancers in about 70 per cent of cases, and up to 98 per cent for some types".
It screens patients for ovarian, liver, stomach, pancreatic, oesophagus, colorectal, lung and breast cancers — some of which are particularly hard to diagnose early on.
Pancreatic cancers, for example, do not show symptoms until it's advanced, meaning that 80 per cent of cases are not detected until too late.
Together these cancers were responsible for the deaths of some 25,000 people last year.
Developed by a team led by Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, the test delivers "almost no false positives", which means it will spare patients from the stress of undergoing more invasive and unnecessary medical procedures for a non-existent disease.
Trialled on more that 1000 people already diagnosed with cancer that had not spread, the test "successfully detected 33 per cent of breast cancers, 60 per cent of lung and bowel cancers, about 70 per cent of oesophageal, pancreatic and stomach cancers, and more than 95 per cent of liver and ovarian cancers" reports the The Australian.
It was also able to detect the majority of stage 2 tumours.
Among the contributing researchers were three scientists from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Melbourne, including professor Peter Gibbs, who described the test as "groundbreaking". Professor Gibbs, who also works as an oncologist, said, "We see a lot of people with advanced cancer. If we could diagnose them early and prevent that happening, it would be wonderful."
A larger second study with 10,000 participants is now underway to confirm the results.
However, Professor Gibbs predicted the CancerSEEK test would become available within the next couple of years due to high demand and suggested it may soon be used as an annual screening for older Australians, aged 50 to 75.
"Someone's going to start offering this sort of testing even before the results are in," he told The Australian.
With an expected cost of US$500 (NZ$685) or less, the price tag is comparative to other cancer screening tests.
While he couldn't give an exact figure, Professor Gibbs told Fairfax that he hoped the research would save thousands of lives each year.
"If we could reduce cancer deaths by 20 to 30 per cent across those major cancers it would a really big advance," he said.