A new type of DNA type blood test can detect over 50 types of cancer, hoping that it could save millions in early detection.
Revealed by researchers in a study, the test is based on DNA that is shed by tumors, which are found circulating in the blood.
The test focuses on Chemical changes to this DNA, which is known as methylation patterns.
The researcher said that the test cannot only tell whether someone has cancer, but it can also shed a light on the type of cancer the person has.
Dr. Geoffrey Oxnard, a professor at Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, part of Harvard Medical School, said that the test is now being explored in clinical trials.
Dr. Oxnard said, “You need to use a test like this in an independent group at risk of cancer to actually show that you can find the cancers, and figure out what to do about it when you find them.”
While sharing the huge news, the team revealed how the test was developed, which was through a machine learning algorithm, a type of artificial intelligence.
In the journal Annals of Oncology, it said that systems pick up on patterns within data and as a result, it learns how to classify cancer.
The team initially fed the system with data on methylation patterns in DNA from within blood samples that were taken from over 2,800 patents.
After that, the tests were trained with data from 3,052 participants, 1,531 of whom had cancer and 1,521 of whom did not.
Using this information, the system sorted the samples into groups that are based on methylation patterns.
The team then taught the system which groups reflected which types of cancer.
Oxnard said, “In pregnant women we look in their free-floating DNA for foetal abnormalities.”
Oxnard added, “We know this [approach] exists, the question is how do you fine-tune and perfect the art of looking for cancer in this free-floating DNA? And that is what the machine learning did.”
The team then tested the trained system on another set of examples from 1264 people, in which half of them had cancer.
The results reveal that less than 1 percent of those without cancer were wrongly identified by the system as having the disease.
Oxnard explained, “It is really important you don’t tell non-cancer patients they have cancer.”
When it came to identifying people with cancers, the researchers found out that across over 50 different types of cancer, the system correctly detected the disease was present 44 percent of the time.
Although the team stress that figure could differ if the test was used to screen a general population, rather than those that are known to have cancer.
The detection of the new test was more accurate with people with late stages of cancer.
Cancer was correctly detected in 18 percent of those that had stage 1 cancer, but 93 percent with those that had stage 4 cancer.
The team said that the results are exciting as they are offering the possibility of a new way to screen for cancers that are extremely difficult to detect.
For example, the new system correctly identified 63 percent of those with stage 1 pancreatic cancer, rising to 100 percent in stage 4.
The researchers also found out that the system can also shed limelight on the type of cancer.
According to the researchers, 6% of samples deemed to show cancer, the test was able to offer a prediction for which the tissue cancer originated, with 93% of these predictions found to be correct.
Dr. David Crosby, the head of early detection at Cancer Research UK, said that detecting cancers in their early stages are important as they are more treatable.
Although this test was still at an early stage of development, the results are still encouraging.
Dr. Crosby said, “And if the test can be fine-tuned to be more efficient at catching cancers in their earliest stages, it could become a tool for early detection.”
He added, “More research is needed to improve the test’s ability to catch early cancers and we still need to explore how it might work in a real cancer screening scenario.”
Day by day, we are getting closer to curing cancer.