Major breakthrough in diagnosis could be part of regular health check
The single most important weapon in the fight against cancer, in all its forms, is early diagnosis.
The earlier doctors can intervene in the progression of the disease the more options there are to be able to treat, reverse and potentially ‘cure’ the patient.
Now a combination of computer and genetic science may be able to offer a simple but effective way to screen patients and detect the presence of cancerous cells even before they begin to cause serious damage.
Blood tests that identify cancer are being developed so quickly by scientists that they could be ready within a year.
Californian researchers have created a computer programme that senses tumour tissue and where it is located in the body.
The programme and the blood test combined could be simple enough to be included in a routine health check.
Dubbed a ‘CancerLocator’, Jasmine Zhou and her team at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) detected early stage cancer in 80% of cases.
It works by analysing the amount of tumour DNA that’s currently travelling around the blood.
It then compares these patterns against a database of genetic modifications known to be caused by different cancer types.
Professor Zhou said: ‘Non-invasive diagnosis of cancer is important, as it allows the early diagnosis of cancer, and the earlier the cancer is caught, the higher chance a patient has of beating the disease
‘We have developed a computer-driven test that can detect cancer, and also identify the type of cancer, from a single blood sample.
‘The technology is in its infancy and requires further validation, but the potential benefits to patients are huge.’
Thousands of people are diagnosed with cancer every year in the UK and this research focused on breast, lung and liver cancer.
Professor Zhou explained ‘Owing to the limited number of blood samples, the results of this study are evaluated only on three cancer types (breast, liver and lung).
‘In general, the higher the fraction of tumour DNAs in blood, the more accurate the program was at producing a diagnostic result.
‘I hope it will be available within a year. It depends on training data, testing and machine learning,’ she said.
Let’s all hope that this potentially game changing development makes its way into our clinics and surgeries before long.
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