Detecting cancer early is important for effective treatment. A new blood and urine test should be able to find 14 types of cancer — cheap and easy.
Uppsala – To fight cancer as effectively as possible, it is important to detect the disease early. Swedish researchers have now presented a new test that should be able to detect 14 types of cancer at an early stage. The results of the study were in the diary Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) released.
The cancer test analyzes so-called glycosaminoglycans (GAGs). “These are sugar compounds that perform important tasks in the extracellular matrix, i.e. in the material that surrounds our cells,” explains Almut Schulze of the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) in Heidelberg. “These GAGs appear to have a different structure in cancer cells than in healthy cells,” Schulze continues. This change can be detected in blood and urine.
The test is what’s known as a liquid biopsy, where bodily fluids such as blood and urine are examined for specific biomarkers. Because the test is very easy to do and noninvasive, it can also be used for types of cancer where taking a tissue sample is risky, such as lung or brain tumors.
The new test detects 14 types of cancer early in blood and urine
1260 healthy and cancer patients took part in the study. After a blood and urine test, six out of ten cancer patients were identified correctly, and the test was falsely negative in four patients. The cancer test was also tested on samples from a Dutch blood bank and on mice.
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According to the research team, when looking at GAGs, only a few features could provide meaningful information about the spatial and temporal status of early-stage cancer. Furthermore, most of the cancers detected with the test had a poor prognosis for patients. The research team writes that this could increase the clinical significance of the test.
From a practical point of view, the test is simple and cheap and is well suited for use in mass screening. The authors assume a price of about $50, much cheaper than other experimental test methods. The test was able to detect 14 different types of cancer in the study, including breast cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer, ovarian cancer and kidney cancer (RCC).
Study on the new cancer test: some diseases can falsify the validity of information
Almut Schulz heads the Department of Tumor Metabolism and Microenvironment at the DKFZ. He finds it “quite impressive” that the authors examined a large cohort and points out that in Germany it would not have been possible “to obtain a comparable number of blood samples for such research purposes”. However, the expert also points out that there are some diseases that risk falsifying the validity of the test, “because such diseases also modify the GAGs and therefore can lead to a false positive test”.
However, the specialist is certain: “If the test also proves valid with real-world data with different populations, sooner or later it could be included in the screening routine.”
Cancer test ‘still a long way from regular use’
Edgar Dahl, head of the molecular oncology working group at the RWTH Aachen university hospital, thinks “that glycosaminoglycan analysis could be of interest for the early diagnosis of cancer.” However, the test is “still a long way from regular application”. Before that, there would still be “extensive validation in large prospective studies.” (form)