Scientists have recently made a significant breakthrough in medicine by taking a further step towards creating a universal blood test for cancer.
The new method, which was trialled at John Hopkins University, detects eight different types of cancer; the hopeful final outcome of the research is to create an annual blood test for cancer that detects the disease in its early stages to help save lives.
How does a blood test for cancer work?
Cancerous tumours release miniscule traces of their mutated DNA and proteins into the bloodstream, which the blood test for cancer aims to find. The newly trialled blood test for cancer, which researchers have named CancerSEEK, looks for mutations in sixteen common genes and eight proteins that tumours regularly release.
The blood test for cancer was trialled on 1,005 participants who had been pre-diagnosed with cancer, including cancers in the stomach, colon, liver, pancreas, oesophagus, ovaries, lungs or breasts that were isolated, and had not yet spread to other tissues within the body.
The experts conducting the trial have deemed the results of the trial as a breakthrough in cancer detection, as the CancerSEEK test was able to identify 70% of the pre-diagnosed cancers.
While one of the experts of this new blood test for cancer indicated that more research needs to be undertaken to assess the effectiveness of the test, it is a huge step forward for medical research.
Why is a universal blood test for cancer important?
Early detection of cancer is critical, as the treatability of the disease is higher in the earlier stages of development. Five of the eight cancers investigated on the trial currently have no early screenings for detection, while others are symptomless.
Pancreatic cancer, for example, has few symptoms and is therefore commonly detected in the later stages of development, leaving pancreatic cancer with a high mortality rate; four out of five people with pancreatic cancer die within the same year as the diagnosis.
A universal blood test for cancer is an important medical development, with the aim being faster results and diagnoses. It is also a much less invasive procedure than operations such as biopsies or endoscopies. A universal blood test for cancer could help doctors to find tumours in patients earlier, when they could still be surgically removed, and before the cancer has spread to other tissues in the body.
If successful, the universal blood test for cancer would be offered as a complement to other screening tools, such as mammograms and colonoscopies. Correspondingly, CancerSEEK is estimated to cost around £360 per patient, which is approximately the same cost as a colonoscopy.
The next stage for CancerSEEK is for the blood test for cancer to be trialled on participants without a cancer diagnosis in order to find out the true usefulness of this new, potentially lifesaving health check.
There is, however, some uncertainty as to the next steps after the early stages of cancer are detected, as treatment may be worse for the patient than living with a cancer that is not immediately life threatening. The alternative would be to monitor the illness, which is an option currently offered to men with early stages of prostate cancer.
Cancer rehabilitation services
If you or a loved one has undergone cancer treatment, there are many services that offer physical and emotional support for patients and families to help alleviate any stress experienced during the recovery process. These services provide practical advice during the treatment process, as well as in life after cancer.
The Berkshire Cancer Rehabilitation programme, funded by Macmillan Cancer Support, is available to patients registered to a GP in the Berkshire area. This service is also funded in conjunction with Frimley Health NHS Foundation Trust, Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust and Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust.
Overseen by trained cancer professionals, the services include physical activities, health and wellbeing programmes, and psychological and social support. These bespoke services are tailored to each case, offering the patient and their loved ones the best support possible.
The Berkshire Cancer Centre also provides services across Berkshire, as well as areas in South Oxfordshire, offering chemotherapy, radiotherapy and palliative care for patients living with cancer. Care is provided by a multidisciplinary team, often referred to as an MDT, which is made up of doctors, nurses and healthcare professionals specialising in cancer treatment.
The MDT works closely with local community services, including GPs, in order to offer continuous support to those affected by cancer.