Researchers in a recent study says that a new blood test can detect more than 50 types of cancer.
International news sources state that the test is composed of DNA that is shed by tumors and found circulating in the blood. It particularly focuses on chemical changes to this DNA called methylation patterns.
According to the researchers, the test can detect whether someone has cancer or not. In addition to this, it can also determine the types.
Dr. Geoffrey Oxnard of Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, part of Harvard Medical School, said the test was now being explored in clinical trials. “You need to use a test like this in an independent group at risk of cancer to actually show that you can find the cancers, and figure out what to do about it when you find them,”
The team wrote in the journal Annals of Oncology. They informed that the test was created using a type of Artificial Intelligence machine learning algorithm.
Such types of systems pick up patterns within data and learn to classify it.
The source said that The team initially fed the system with data on methylation patterns in DNA from within blood samples taken from more than 2,800 patients, before further training it with data from 3,052 participants, 1,531 of whom had cancer and 1,521 of whom did not.
The system picked up the sample into groups using this information as per the methylation patterns. The team then taught the system about which group reflected which kind of cancer.
Oxnard said, “In pregnant women, we look in their free-floating DNA for foetal abnormalities,”
“We know this [approach] exists, the question is how do you fine-tune and perfect the art of looking for cancer in this free-floating DNA? And that is what the machine learning did.”
Across more than 50 different types, the system correctly detected that the disease was present 44% of the time when the team diagnosed cancers in people, although the team urged that the figure could vary if it was used to test a general population than cancer carrier people.
Overall, cancer was correctly detected in 18% of those with stage I cancer, but 93% of those with stage IV cancer.
The team says that the results pave a new possible way to screen for complex cancers.
The team further found that the system could highlight the types. For 96% of samples deemed to show cancer, the test was able to offer a prediction for which the tissue cancer originated, with 93% of these predictions found to be correct.
Dr. David Crosby, head of early detection at Cancer Research UK, said that detecting cancers in their early stages is important as they are less aggressive and more treatable.
Although this test was still at an early stage of development, the initial results were encouraging, he said. “And if the test can be fine-tuned to be more efficient at catching cancers in their earliest stages, it could become a tool for early detection.”
But Crosby added there was work to do. “More research is needed to improve the test’s ability to catch early cancers and we still need to explore how it might work in a real cancer screening scenario,” he said.