Blood test could detect cancer before symptoms show

  • Researchers at Johns Hopkins have developed a way to test for cancer before symptoms appear 
  • The team says it is a long way off from being used for cancer screenings but results are promising 
  • They found that dying tumor cells release bits of their DNA into a sufferer’s blood
  • That DNA can be tested and determine if someone has an early stage of cancer 

Researchers have taken a step towards developing a test that can determine if someone has cancer before symptoms appear. 

A team of oncologists at Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center found that dying tumor cells release small bits of their DNA into a sufferer’s blood which can be tested.

The blood test was able to positively confirm a cancer diagnosis in people who had one of the four biggest killer cancers – breast, colon, lung or ovarian. 

And it is unique in that it can distinguish between DNA shed from tumors and other altered DNA commonly mistaken for cancer biomarkers, according to the team.   

The research team said the test is a long way off of being used to screen for cancer but could eventually get there. 

A team of researchers at Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center found a way to test for bits of DNA released by dying tumor cells into a sufferer's blood (stock) 

A team of researchers at Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center found a way to test for bits of DNA released by dying tumor cells into a sufferer’s blood (stock) 


A new scanning technique could predict whether breast cancer is likely to spread into the lungs, research suggests.

Scientists hope the innovative technique could allow doctors to intensively treat tumors before they start to expand.

The research by UK scientists is still at an early stage, and so far has only been proven to work in mice.

But if it can be replicated in humans it would dramatically improve the prognosis of those diagnosed with breast cancer.

Tumors in the breast are relatively easy to treat, because they can be simply removed with surgery or targeted with chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

But when the cancer spreads to another part of the body – a process known as metastasis – it is much harder to treat.

Most deaths from cancer are caused by secondary tumours, which in breast cancer usually appear in the lungs, the liver or the bones.

Scientists at King’s College London think the new imaging technique will allow them to identify women whose cancer is likely to spread into their lungs, allowing them to use intensive treatments earlier to stop the spread.



It was able to detect tumor DNA in more than half of the patients tested, all of whom had already been diagnosed with stage one cancer.

It was more accurate in later-stage cancers, though authors noted that the goal of the test would be to detect cancer as early as possible. 

‘There is a lot of excitement about liquid biopsies, but most of that has been in late-stage cancer or in individuals where you already know what to look for,’ lead author Dr Victor Velculescu said.

‘The surprising result is that we can find a high fraction of early-stage patients having alterations in their blood.’ 

There are multiple types of liquid biopsy tests on the market already, and they can be used to determine whether or not cancer treatments are working. But this would be the first test to detect cancer in someone who hasn’t been diagnosed. 

Dr Velculescu explained it’s easy to find mutations if you are looking for something specific.

‘The challenge was to develop a blood test that could predict the probable presence of cancer without knowing the genetic mutations present in a person’s tumor,’ he said. 

The study, published in Science Transitional Medicine, outlines the new approach called targeted error connection sequencing (TEC-Seq). 

The approach examined 58 cancer-related genes through deep sequencing DNA 30,000 times over to look for mutations in the DNA of tumor cells that float in the body. 

Cancer patients have this DNA in their blood from tumor cells that die. 

Just by looking at their blood, the researchers were able to identify 62 percent of the people with stage one cancer, fifty percent of the overall colon cancer patients, and 90 percent of the colon cancer patients with stage two, three or four.

They also identified 45 percent of stage one lung cancer patients, 67 percent of stage one ovarian cancer patients and 67 percent of stage one breast cancer patients. 

Though the results were promising, Dr Velculescu said the test still needs a lot of improvement. 

The test also needs to be tried on larger numbers of patients and on patients with more obscure cancers. 

The first goal, he said, is to test its efficiency in detecting cancer in people who are at high risk – such as smokers or people with gene mutations such as BRCA. 

He explained that catching the disease at its earliest stage could save lives, as cancer is the number two overall killer in America.  

Health | Mail Online