Most types of cancer are easily treated if detected at an early stage, but since their symptoms occur late, they are not spotted in time. Therefore, the discovery of a test that can identify eight types of cancer early enough to be successfully treated is an important breakthrough, which could help save many lives. Even if the test has proven to be more successful with particular forms of cancer, it comes with great potential and offer a glimmer of hope to many people.
An international team coordinated by the Johns Hopkins University came up with the idea of simultaneously using two known methods of detecting forms of cancer in an early stage. The practice, named CancerSEEK, is based on identifying certain proteins released by the respective forms of cancer (similar to prostate cancer detection PSA tests) and, at the same time, looking for gene mutations indicative of the disease, a combination which was expected to lead to the early detection of stomach, ovary, lung, breast, esophagus, liver, pancreas and colorectal cancer.
The research team ran a study on 1,005 patients who were already known to have been diagnosed with one of the eight forms of cancer in question, which was a good starting point to test the newly invented method. However, the real goal of the CancerSEEK method is to identify cancer before the actual diagnosis, which is the real challenge for the medical team.
The CancerSEEK detection rate was impressive for stage III and II cancer forms, recording 78 percent in the first case and 73 percent in the latter, but for stage I cancers the rate was only 43 percent, numbers that reflect the overall results for all types of cancer. The results were slightly different when analyzed for each type of cancer individually, with a 100 percent success rate for stage I liver cancer, and only 20 percent for stage I esophageal cancer.
The study of CancerSEEK also revealed a significant decrease in the rate of false positives, which was one of the most criticized issues in the case of PSA tests, the results of which lead to an incorrect diagnosis in 9 percent of the cases. In the case of CancerSEEK, less than 1 percent of the controls with no forms of cancer retrieved a positive results, thus eliminating any unnecessary mental anxiety, but also the need to run additional tests for a disease that does not exist in the first place.
One of the researchers of this revolutionary cancer detection method, Prof. Peter Gibbs of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute from Australia, emphasizes that the major advantage of CancerSEEK lies in the fact that, unlike other cancer detection tests, it can detect more than one form of cancer. Prof. Gibbs also mentioned that out of the eight types of cancer that this method can identify, five of them don’t have any detection test at all. Furthermore, CancerSEEK eliminates the discomfort of the patient and the potential risks that other tests imply.
As far as the costs of the screening are concerned, the CancerSEEK test was estimated at approximately $500 per person, making it accessible to a wider range of people. However, the authors of the study mentioned that it is important to keep in mind the fact that the CancerSEEK was tested in controlled research conditions, on subjects that were not suffering from any other disease or illness, thus reducing the chance of other factors interfering with the results of the tests. Therefore, further research on this cancer detection method is imperative and more complex study has already been initiated.
At this point, there are cases in which CancerSEEK can detect a form of cancer, without pinpointing exactly where it is located, but the number of situations when the test localized the disease reached 60 percent, while in 20 percent of the cases the location of the cancer was limited to two potential areas. Considering the above, Prof. Gibbs claimed that due to the very high demand, it is possible for CancerSEEK to become available before the new study has ended.