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Accurate Blood Test Could Become Standard For Cancer Diagnosis

Accurate Blood Test Could Become Standard For Cancer Diagnosis

While physicians believe they are acting in their patient’s best interest by trying to expedite a diagnosis, the over-ordering of liver blood tests could be having unintended consequences.

Researchers in the UK have developed a novel blood test to detect cancer, which could replace costly, time-consuming biopsy diagnostic methods. Details about the blood test were presented at the 2015 World Conference on Lung Cancer, in Colorado, US.

The study was conducted by Eric Lim and his colleagues at the Royal Brompton Hospital and Harefield National Health Service (NHS) Foundation Trust, in collaboration with the UK’s National Heart and Lung Institute (NHLI), at Imperial College London. Two-hundred and twenty three patients who were about to undergo surgery for confirmed or suspected primary or secondary lung cancer, participated in the study.

The researchers were kept in the dark as to whether or not each patient’s cancer had been confirmed. The blood test developed by Lim and researchers was able to correctly identify cancer in almost 70% of the cases.

The test is able to detect DNA released from dead cancer cells into the blood, by recognizing three of the most common gene mutations present in cancers. While different cancer types have characteristic mutations, there is some overlap between these mutations and different forms of the disease.

For example, colorectal and lung cancer display similar mutations, which makes the researchers optimistic that a similar blood test would be useful in detection of both types of the illness. To confirm the results of the blood test, the researchers also analyzed tissue samples from patients with lung cancer, and found that the two tests produced the same results.

“We hope this study will be a real game changer that could ultimately lead to many more lives being saved through earlier diagnosis and treatment for all types of cancer,” said Lim. While the test is not a complete alternative to a biopsy, the researchers say that a positive blood test result could allow the patient to skip a biopsy and go ahead with treatment.

While biopsy is the current gold-standard in cancer diagnostics, it is an invasive procedure which carries its own risks. It’s also expensive – according to research presented at the 2014 Chicago Multidisciplinary Symposium in Thoracic Oncology, the average cost of a biopsy is $14,634, per patient.

The study also presented data from a survey of 8,979 random Medicare patients, aged 65-74. The patients reported that between July 2009 and December 2010, 43.1 percent of the patients had biopsies with a negative result, with 20% of those patients surveyed suffering severe complications as a result of a lung biopsy.

Most importantly, there can be long wait times for biopsy procedures, which results in a delayed time in the onset of treatment for those patients diagnosed with cancer. The blood test would offer a quick alternative to biopsy, to ensure interventions are taken as soon as possible, thereby increasing chances of survival.

While the newly-developed diagnostic tool offers much promise in early cancer intervention, Lim and his colleagues stress that other methods should still be used in order to confirm negative results of the blood test. The team goes on to say that more studies must be undertaken in order to further validate the blood test as a cancer diagnostics tool.