Doctors welcome possible 'holy grail of cancer research'

Representational Image

Representational Image

The "holy grail" of cancer treatment moved a step closer yesterday after a study showed that a simple blood test can spot several forms of the disease at an early stage.

Doctors say it opens the possibility of treatment for cancers that are often hard or impossible to cure because they can not be detected early enough, saving more lives, and slashing medical costs.

"This is potentially the holy grail of cancer research, to find cancers that are now hard to cure at an earlier stage when they are easier to cure", said Dr. Eric Klein, lead author of the research from Cleveland Clinic's Taussig Cancer Institute. "We need more and more and more samples" to determine the true accuracy of the test.

The research - presented at the annual conference of the American Society of Clinical Oncologists, in Chicago - found that the procedure was particularly effective for spotting ovarian and pancreatic cancers. Klein's team examined 1,600 patients, 878 of the patients were recently diagnosed with cancer.

The test is being hailed as the "holy grail of cancer research" after a trial of about 1,600 people found it could identify DNA markers with up to 90% accuracy.

Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, said such advances in medicine could "dramatically transform" the tools doctors use to screen cancer.

It detected genetic traces of multiple cancers, including breast, pancreatic and ovarian, according to the study led by Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, US.

"This is potentially the holy grail of cancer research, to find cancers that are now hard to cure at an earlier stage when they are easier to cure", said Dr Eric Klein, lead author of the research from Cleveland Clinic's Taussig Cancer Institute.

Grail's lung cancer data comes from a wider study that eventually aims to enroll 15,000 participants and cover 20 different types of cancers. However, doctors could only find a disease in a blood test when our body starts showing symptoms.

Head and neck cancer as well as lung cancer were detected with the least accuracy, at 56% and 59%, respectively. The symptoms can often be quite generic, like tiredness and weight loss, so many people don't find out they have the disease until it has really taken hold.

The number of patients in whom cancers were detected was small.

Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, professor of medicine at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, said in a previous CNN report that the analysis involved in these tests is "extraordinarily complex".

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