Brain and Body

New Cancer Test is 96% Accurate with One Drop of Blood

November 18, 2015 | Kelly Tatera

Blood test, finger prick
Photo credit: Wikipedia (Public Domain)

Next level cancer detection.

Perhaps the most famous finger prick of all belongs to poor Sleeping Beauty, but new developments in cancer research might give her a run for her money. Diabetics are likely familiar with the practice of using a drop of blood to track their sugar levels in glucose meters, and researchers at the Umeå University in Sweden have extended this idea to potentially save the lives of cancer victims as well. The new test identifies cancer in just a single drop of blood with 96 percent accuracy.

Conventional means of detecting cancer can be extremely timely and invasive, with numerous types of scans as well as surgical biopsies. Since this “liquid biopsy” approach is not 100 percent accurate, the researchers clarify that they aren’t suggesting that this method should replace all other cancer detection systems. However, the impressive new technology has the ability to actually identify where the cancerous tumor is located in the body , so both patients and physicians could benefit from a much simpler way to track down the disease.

SEE ALSO: This Cancer-Detecting Tadpole Swims Through Your Body

You may be wondering how a blood test could have the ability to pinpoint a cancerous tumor’s location. According to the study, blood platelets, or disk-shaped cell fragments without a nucleus, have the ability to become “educated.” As they circulate through the blood and become exposed to the cancerous tumor, their own behavior is changed. Then, these “tumor-educated platelets” have the ability to tell doctors if cancer exists, what kind of cancer it is, and which organ it can be found in — all from a simple blood test.

"Being able to detect cancer at an early stage is vital. We have studied how a whole new blood-based method of biopsy can be used to detect cancer, which in the future renders an invasive cell tissue sample unnecessary in diagnosing lung cancer, for instance,” Jonas Nilsson, cancer researcher at Umeå University and co-author of the article, said in a press release.

The researchers analyzed the blood samples of 283 individuals — 228 of whom had some form of cancer while the other 55 showed no evidence of the disease. By comparing the RNA profiles of the blood samples, researchers were able to pinpoint the presence of cancer. While their overall success rate was 96 percent, they saw varying rates of success within smaller subgroups. For instance, among the 39 study volunteers in which an early detection of cancer had been made, the researchers identified the cancer 100 percent of the time.

However, the follow-up tests saw a surprising drop in accuracy. Although the system still yielded impressive results — a 71 percent accuracy rate at detecting tumors in patients with cancer in the lung, breast, pancreas, brain, liver, colon, and rectum — it’s clear the technology still needs to be perfected.

The development is still a huge leap forward in the medical field. “In the study, nearly all forms of cancer were identified,” said Nilsson, “which proves that blood-based biopsies have an immense potential to improve early detection of cancer."

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