Researchers at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health (Madison, WI, USA) have developed a blood test that is able to detect multiple types of cancer in a relatively simpler and less expensive way compared to other tests in development.
The test detects specific signs of cancer in the blood using a straightforward method: counting DNA fragments that appear to be “broken” in unexpected places. Both tumor cells and healthy cells release DNA fragments into the blood, although tumors express different genes than normal cells in the body, so they also differ in the way those DNA fragments are broken. The new test examines the “end position” of the DNA fragments in the blood to see if the breaks have occurred in “unexpected places.”
In their study, the researchers found that their approach can distinguish people with any of 11 different types of cancer from people who do not have cancer using a relatively small blood sample. For the study, the researchers analyzed blood samples from 286 healthy people, of whom 103 had non-cancerous medical conditions and 994 had one of 11 types of cancer, ranging from breast and ovarian cancer to melanoma and rarer cancers such as bile duct tumors and the deadly brain cancer glioblastoma. The researchers found that the test worked well in identifying blood samples from cancer patients, including those with early-stage cancer, which is important in a screening test.
The researchers will now study how well the test can work to detect a single cancer, rather than several. The new approach could offer significant advantages over other blood tests currently in development.