A group of scientists led by Nickolas Papadopolous, a professor of oncology and pathology at the Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center, carried out this new blood test approach in which two types of methods are put into one test.
The test looked at 1,005 patients with cancers of the ovary, liver, stomach, pancreas, esophagus, colorectum, lung or breast. It searches for 16 giveaway genetic mutations in pieces of tumor-associated DNA that are released by cancerous cells and can accumulate in the bloodstream. This needs to be notched up for the test to be of use in screening populations for early stage cancers.
Speaking to the BBC, Paul Pharoah, professor of cancer epidemiology at the University of Cambridge, said: "Demonstrating that a test can detect advanced cancers does not mean that the test will be useful in detecting early-stage symptomatic cancer, much less pre-symptomatic cancer". Another issue with liquid biopsies is the ability to identify the underlying tissue of origin.
According to Papadopoulos and his colleagues, the ultimate goal for the test is to detect early signs of cancer before diagnosis, though there's still a long way to go to ensure the tests accuracy in locating the cancer in the body.
More research needs to be done, but experts in the United Kingdom have called the work "enormously exciting", according to the BBC. What's unclear, however, is whether CancerSEEK is able to detect undiagnosed cancers, Rosenfeld adds.
The scientists optimized the panel by working to the concept of diminishing returns. The researchers have already begun a large study to see whether the test can pick up tumors in seemingly cancer-free women. The result was a "small but robust" panel of highly selective DNA markers.
There are no screening tests yet available for average-risk individuals.
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CancerSEEK is now being trialled on people who have not been diagnosed with cancer - a true test of its effectiveness, said Dr Tomasetti.
The earlier a cancer is found, the greater the chance of being able to treat it.
The test was best at finding ovarian cancer, which it detected up to 98 percent of the time.
To precisely determine the optimal number of DNA bases to assess in the CancerSEEK test, the researchers used a method based on diminishing returns.
"The sensitivity of the test in stage I cancer is quite low, about 40 per cent, and even with stage I and II combined it appears to be around 60 per cent". And the test hasn't even been tried on patients who have yet to develop symptoms.
In more than 1,000 patients, CancerSEEK detected cancer with 69% to 98% success rate (depending on cancer type) for five of eight cancer types.
Further study is needed before the test - called CancerSEEK - can be made widely available for its projected cost of about $500, said the report in the journal Science.