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In the news: new cancer blood test – what does it mean for blood cancers?

The Bloodwise logo. Bloodwise appears in black text against a white background
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01 Jun 2018

Today’s newspapers cover the news that a simple blood test is being developed that can spot the early signs of a number of different cancers with up to 90% accuracy.

Close up of a scientist's hand as they work in a laboratory

The test, which can detect DNA from cancer cells that enters the blood stream, could be used in the future to improve early diagnosis rates.

The test shows promise in some blood cancers too. For many types of blood cancer, a full blood cell count is already adequate to identify which patients are likely to have blood cancer and need further tests. But in lymphomas and myeloma cancerous blood cells form solid masses in the lymphatic system or in bone, and a “liquid biopsy” might become an effective first line test to spot cancer early through a blood test.

Researchers from the US used the ‘liquid biopsy’ test to spot signs of cancer in 878 newly-diagnosed cancer patients and 749 people who did not have cancer. They will present their results at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s annual conference in Chicago this weekend

They found that the test was able to detect signs of 10 different tumours, with a 90% accuracy rate at detecting ovarian cancers. The test had a 77% accuracy rate at correctly diagnosing lymphoma and a 73% accuracy rate at picking up signs of myeloma.

What could this mean for people with blood cancers?

Dr Alasdair Rankin, Director of Research and Patient Experience at Bloodwise, said: “Liquid biopsies have been a big focus in cancer research for a while, but the methods used in this particular test are more sensitive and accurate than previous tests. The research is still in its early stages and more research is needed. While it is an exciting development, it is likely to be a few years before it could be ready for routine use.

“We know that people with myeloma require on average more visits to their GP than other cancers before being diagnosed. Many people are only diagnosed when they start having unexplained fractures due to the devastating bone damage caused by their myeloma. Earlier diagnosis of myeloma would in many cases allow the earlier treatment of symptoms and could delay the onset of bone damage, making a real difference to the quality of people’s lives.

“If the test can be made accurate and sensitive enough, a liquid biopsy could one day become a powerful diagnostic tool for myeloma and lymphoma. At the moment, myeloma is diagnosed through a painful and invasive bone marrow biopsy, so the possibility of using a simple blood test would be a hugely positive step.”