Widely reported in the news today is the story that scientists have taken a step towards developing a universal blood test for cancer.
The research, led by a team of scientists at John Hopkins University in Baltimore, USA tested 1,005 patients with unmetastasised cancers of the ovary, breast, liver, stomach, pancreas, esophagus, colorectum or lung. It was found to be 70% effective in detecting these cancers. Along with cancer detection, the blood test also accurately predicted what type of cancer it was in 83% of cases.
Significantly, for five of the eight cancers identified by the CancerSEEK test – including ovarian cancer – there is currently no screening programme. Joshua Cohen, the lead author of the study, said, "Our ultimate vision is that a person goes to their primary care provider for a routine checkup and at the same time as testing their cholesterol, they have a screening to test for different types of cancer.”
Early detection is undoubtedly the key to reducing the number of ovarian cancer deaths; women diagnosed at stage 1 have a 90% survival rate after five years, compared to 19% at stage 3. However, sensitivity for the stage 1 cancers in this study was only 40%, meaning that the majority of cancers would go undetected at this early stage.
The test also has some way to go before it can be rolled out to the wider population. A second study, involving 10,000 healthy participants, is planned in order to confirm the results, which are expected in the next three to five years.
While the CancerSEEK test is an exciting development and certainly a step in the right direction, there is still more to be done if we are to see a significant reduction in ovarian cancer mortality rates.
We’re currently funding research at the University of Oxford, which is hoped will lead to the development of a screening tool. It is only through the reliable detection of ovarian cancer in its earliest stages that we will be able to truly change the future for women with ovarian cancer.