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DNA test hailed as 'breakthrough' for early cancer detection

Blood test can detect illness years before symptoms

Photo: Shutterstock

Photo: Shutterstock

A new blood test which scientists say is able to detect certain types of cancer several years before a person falls ill has been hailed as a breakthrough.

A trial of around 1,600 people found the non-invasive procedure to identify DNA markers works with up to 90% accuracy, the authors said.

The test was used to detect genetic traces of multiple cancers, including pancreatic and ovarian diseases, according to the study.

The findings will be presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting in Chicago this weekend.This is potentially the holy grail of cancer research, to find cancers at an earlier stage when they are easier to cure

Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, said such advances in medicine could "dramatically transform" care.

Eric Klein, lead author, from the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, told the Daily Telegraph: "This is potentially the holy grail of cancer research, to find cancers that are currently hard to cure at an earlier stage when they are easier to cure, and we hope this test could save many lives.

"Most cancers are detected at a late stage, but this 'liquid biopsy' gives us the opportunity to find them months or years before someone would develop symptoms and be diagnosed."

Mr Stevens said: "Our 100,000 genome project already makes England a world leader in applying the medical technologies of the future.

"Now, as the NHS marks its 70th anniversary, we stand on the cusp of a new era of personalised medicine that will dramatically transform care for cancer and for inherited and rare diseases.

"In particular, new techniques for precision early diagnosis would unlock enormous survival gains, as well as dramatic productivity benefits in the practice of medicine."

The study examined 749 people without cancer and 878 who had been newly diagnosed with the disease, but not yet been treated.

The test detected 90% of ovarian, 80% of pancreatic and two thirds of bowel cancer cases (66%), according to the research.

It was 77% accurate in diagnosing lymphoma, 73% accurate for myeloma, and 80% accurate for liver and gallbladder cancers.

Triple-negative breast, lung, oesophagus, head and neck cancers were also picked up with more than 50% accuracy.

However, it was less effective at detecting stomach, uterine and early-stage prostate cancer, the authors said.

"This approach is promising as a multi-cancer screening test," they concluded.

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