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Test could help detect cancer earlier

November 4, 2013 By Joseph Lutz

According to a new study, a recently developed blood test could help doctors detect early stages of lung and prostate cancer.

After more than a decade of trying to develop a blood test to detect cancer, researchers are making some new strides. Although the test has only been used on a few people and has limited accuracy, it could eventually provide doctors more with information if they suspect a patient may have cancer.

“[This is] one more tool doctors can use to help guide clinical decisions,” said study co-author Dr. Daniel Sessler, chairman of the department of outcomes research at Cleveland Clinic. “It is by no means perfect, but may provide information to guide clinicians, especially in high-risk patients.”

In the research, blood samples were taken from 95 cancer patients and were compared with those from healthy people. Blood samples from patients were also taken before and after they had surgery for lung cancer.

The researchers found that cancer patients had up to six times the level of fatty acids and metabolites compared to healthy people. The fatty acids are released by the cancer and help cancer cells grow. Fatty acid levels were also found to have decreased between 3 and 10 times after surgery.

The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Anesthesiologists in San Francisco Oct. 12-16.

“It has the potential for being a breakthrough,” said Kings County Health Officer Michael Mac Lean. “Unfortunately, these things often don’t pan out, so we just have to see how it goes. It would be premature to get too excited.”

According to the study, the blood test correctly identifies cancer patients and those without cancer about 75 percent of the time. This means that there’s a 25 percent chance a person will be incorrectly diagnosed with cancer and a 25 percent chance some cases of cancer won’t be found.

“That’s not quite close enough for medical purposes,” Mac Lean said. “It needs to be closer to 95 percent accuracy to really make a difference.”

If the blood test is eventually released, it could make getting screenings safer and possibly more affordable for patients.

“A blood test is cheaper than the more complex early screening procedures we have now,” he said. “You also have to consider current tests like CT scans also come with a significant amount of radiation.”

Mac Lean said he remains hopeful that researchers may able to increase the accuracy with further testing over the years.

“It’s promising to have something like this in the works,” he said. “There’s some real potential. It’s a good sign and I’m encouraged to see it.”

A timetable for when hospitals could begin using the blood test has not been given, as the research is still in the early phases and the test is undergoing further study.