Experimental cancer blood test shows promise, but also hits some snags

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Credit: Jacqueline Larma/AP

A blood test has detected cancer in individuals who had no history or symptoms of cancer. A trial of the test, which is still experimental, shows that it is possible to identify signs of cancer early on, long before people show symptoms of being sick. But the study also identified some people as having cancer when, in fact, there were no tumors at all, and it missed some cases of cancer.

The test, which analyzes blood for DNA released by tumor cells as well as for known protein biomarkers of specific cancers, accurately detected undiagnosed cancers in 26 women of the nearly 10,000 women aged 65 to 75 who participated in the study.

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A startup called Thrive plans to continue to develop the test for clinical use. But there are uncertainties about how much pre-clinical testing of the test itself will be needed before physicians and oncologists could start using it to search for early signs of cancer, according to Science. Will spotting undetectable cancers be enough or will the test have to show it saves lives? “That is what everybody in the field is grappling with now,” [coauthor Nickolas] Papadopoulos says.

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