In a bid to detect cancers early and in a noninvasive way, scientists at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, and colleagues, report they have developed a test that spots tiny amounts of cancer-specific DNA in blood and have used it to accurately identify more than half of 138 people with relatively early-stage colorectal, breast, lung, and ovarian cancers. The test, the scientists say, is novel in that it can distinguish between DNA shed from tumors and other altered DNA that can be mistaken for cancer biomarkers. A report on the research, performed on blood and tumor tissue samples from 200 people with all stages of cancer in the U.S., Denmark, and the Netherlands, appears in the August 16, 2017 issue of Science Translational Medicine. The open-access article is titled “Direct Detection of Early-Stage Cancers Using Circulating Tumor DNA.” "This study shows that identifying cancer early using DNA changes in the blood is feasible and that our high-accuracy sequencing method is a promising approach to achieve this goal," says Victor Velculescu (photo), MD, PhD, Professor of Oncology at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center. Blood tests for cancer are a growing part of clinical oncology, but they remain in the early stages of development. To find small bits of cancer-derived DNA in the blood of cancer patients, scientists have frequently relied on DNA alterations found in patients' biopsied tumor samples as guideposts for the genetic mistakes they should be looking for among the masses of DNA circulating in those patients' blood samples. To develop a cancer screening test that could be used to screen seemingly healthy people, scientists had to find novel ways to spot DNA alterations that could be lurking in a person's blood but had not been previously identified. "The challenge was to develop a blood test that could predict the probable presence of cancer without knowing the genetic mutations present in a person's tumor," says Dr. Velculescu.
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