Researchers at the National Human Genome Research Institute in the United States have begun developing a blood test that can detect 5 types of cancer, after discovering that when the cancers are present in the body, one particular gene alters its chemical signature.
There are more than 100 types of cancer, and each cancer is broken down by stage, tumor structure, how quickly it grows, and whether or not it has metastasized. Finding a universal blood test to detect the disease, let alone a cure, has seemed like the impossible dream. But the test in development could be the catalyst that changes all of that.
“A blood test to predict risk or spot breast cancer earlier is becoming a distinct possibility,” said Dr. Richard Berks, Cancer Research UK’s senior science information officer. “This paper suggests that certain chemical tags in a specific region of our DNA could be a warning klaxon for certain cancer types.”
The scientists found that when colon, lung, breast, stomach, and endometrial cancers are present, there are higher amounts of methylation, which decreases a gene’s activity “like a dimmer on a light switch.” Methylation is a biological process which tells genes to switch to the “off” position.
Significantly Less Invasive Form of Testing
Dr. Laura Elnitski, a computational biologist in the Intramural Research Program at National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), said:
“Finding a distinctive methylation-based signature is like looking for a spruce tree in a pine forest. It’s a technical challenge to identify, but we found an elevated methylation signature around the gene known as ZNF154 that is unique to tumors.”
Right now blood tests are specific to certain types of tumors, and doctors first find the cancer, biopsy it, and determine its genetic sequence. The new test does not require any foreknowledge of cancer, and it is significantly less invasive than tests like colonoscopies and mammograms.
“The earliest stage of tumor detection is currently under investigation,” added Dr. Elnitski. “Detection upon formation may not be the ultimate goal as the body has natural defenses to fight tumors in their earliest stages.”
Researchers are hoping to start human trials soon, so that a diagnostic test can be produced and used in the real world.
“We have laid the groundwork for developing a diagnostic test, which offers the hope of catching cancer earlier and dramatically improving the survival rate of people with many types of cancer,” Dr. Elnitski said.
Meanwhile, here are 4 anti-cancer foods everyone should add to their diets to help reduce cancer risk.
Julie Fidler is a freelance writer, legal blogger, and the author of Adventures in Holy Matrimony: For Better or the Absolute Worst. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two ridiculously spoiled cats. She occasionally pontificates on her blog.