A Blood Test for Cancer?

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Any cancer doctor will tell you that the earlier you pick up a tumor, the better your chances are of treating it and getting it under control.

So researchers at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago are announcing some welcome news on that front. Scientists at the biotechnology company Chronix Biomedical presented some intriguing data on a test they developed for picking up—in the blood—early stage breast and prostate cancers.

The test is based on the idea that tumors are constantly dividing and shedding dead tissue. The test is able to detect very specific fragments of DNA released by these dead cancer cells in the blood stream. So far, the company’s CEO, Dr. Howard Urnovitz, says that the fragments are 92% sensitive in picking out the two cancers. And because the genetic signatures are unique to each tumor type, the test is also 100% specific for them. The advantage of such a blood-based diagnostic is that taken together, a test including all of these markers could pick up a wide range of different types of cancers at the earliest stages.

Such gene-based tests for diagnosing and even treating cancers is the latest trend in cancer therapy. For breast and colon cancer patients, a multi-gene test called can predict a patient’s chance of recurrence once he or she has been diagnosed; the breast cancer version can also help guide patients and physicians to the right chemotherapy drugs.

So far, Chronix has only applied its test to samples of breast and prostate cancer tissue, and have yet to validate their test with the blood of actual cancer patients. That study is being planned, but Urnovitz is “cautiously optimistic” that it will confirm the findings in the tissue samples.