A simple blood test will soon allow us to identify a hidden cancer

How to detect cancer in people without symptoms? A cancer researcher Bert Vogelstein has received numerous awards for his work on genetic mutations that cause cancer. However he’s always wanted that these mutations can be detected in the early stages, when the cancer is easier to treat. And now a group of investors invested $ 110 million in the dream of Vogelstein and creates a company called Thrive Earlier Detection.

This is the most recent addition to the costly race for the first screening tests, able to determine the range of the cancer by simple blood sampling. Rival company Grail has collected more than $ 1 billion to develop a universal test for cancer detection.

How to know you have cancer, if there is no symptoms?

The concept of blood screening, called “liquid biopsy”, owes much to the early efforts of Vogelstein and his colleagues at Johns Hopkins University Kenneth Kinzler. It relies on the fact that tumors release riddled with mutation of DNA and distinctive proteins in the bloodstream. Sometimes they can be found even in those who have no external signs of cancer.

Together with the oncologist, Nicholas Papadopoulos, scientists from Hopkins last year described a blood test, which searched for 16 genes and eight proteins was able to detect several types of cancer, including stomach cancer, ovarian and liver — however, in the blood of great men. Now the same group is conducting a study for a large health system Geisinger 10,000 completely healthy women aged 65 to 75 to understand how often the analysis reveals a hidden cancer in the body. Women with a positive result are placed in the scanner the entire body to search for tumors.

Doctors from Geisinger say that thus was diagnosed with cancer and began treatment. But the results they can publish. It is too early to talk about something promising.

Screening tests are evaluated according to how much of a real malignant tumors they found and how many false positives are received. Vogelstein, says that in order for the test to work, he needs to find at least 20% of the actual cancer characteristics. Why it is impossible to detect 70%? Because in reality, the detection of at least one-fifth of a hidden cancer at the stage of a possible cure can do more than any new drug, which typically prolongs life by a few weeks.

A more difficult problem lies in the fact that the analysis falsely indicates the presence of cancer. According to Vogelstein, any screening test should produce no more than 1 in 100 false positives. Because if the percentage of false positives will be high, will have to conduct many additional tests that it is hard both emotionally and financially.

Company Thrive that is interested in the idea of Vogelstein have to gather enough data to convince insurers to pay for tests, which will cost about $ 500. That she did not have to prove that this analysis can save lives. The value of even a widely used screening tests like mammograms remains a subject of debate even decades later. Instead, Thrive will probably try to sell test based on various measurements, for example, attempt to show that cancer can be found faster and earlier than usual.

“If you can prove that you can detect cancer early, it would be reasonable to extrapolate that you can save a life,” says Vogelstein. “To actually prove it, we need hundreds of thousands or millions of patients. We don’t want to wait so long.”.