A team of scientists at the John Hopkins University have made a breakthrough with detecting cancer.
A new method is being tried and tested and has been found to detect eight common forms of cancer – before the symptoms begin to show.
In other words, catch it before it catches you. The method in question: one simple blood test.
But how does a blood test detect cancer?
Cancer is considered the most common human genetic disease.
It can be explained as the change from a normal cell to a malignant cancer.
The cells in our bodies are constantly in motion, dividing and reproducing in a controlled process.
DNA replication is a vital part of cell division, but mistakes do happen.
The body usually takes care of these mistakes, but occasionally they lead to uncontrolled cell growth, which we know as a tumour or cancer.
When these cancer cells die, they release traces of their DNA, as well as proteins, into our blood. These both hold mutations that scientists have been able to detect.
This new method of detecting cancer through a blood test is called CancerSEEK, and so far it has been tested on 1,005 patients.
These patients had many different cancers – ovary, liver, stomach, pancreas, oesophagus, colon, lung and breast cancer – which were all located to that area and had not yet spread.
The team at John Hopkins University then used the blood test method to look for the different mutated DNA and proteins belonging to the cancerous cells.
The blood test method found 70 percent of the cancers present, which is an amazing result for the first test of this method.
What does this blood test mean for the future?
Five of the eight cancers that were used for this test have no screening programmes to detect cancer when it’s still in the early stages.
The earlier the cancer is found, the better the chances of treating and beating the cancer.
In the case of tumours that can be surgically removed, a day or a night can mean the difference between life and death.
For example, pancreatic cancer is hard to detect in its early stages. The best chance of survival is to have the cancer surgically removed, but this isn’t always an option if the cancer isn’t diagnosed early enough.
Most times, it is too late and four out of five patients will die in the year they are diagnosed. So far, not much progress has been made on these statistics – until now.
The blood test CancerSEEK has not only managed to detect cancer, but also managed to locate the origin of the cancer in some patients, such as the lung tissue.
This will be crucial for follow-up treatment.
CancerSEEK is still in the process of being tested and there is still a great amount of research that needs to go into the method to ensure it’s completely accurate. But what a breakthrough it is now that cancer can be detected before a patient can even feel its presence.
This article was originally published on Women's Health South Africa.