CancerSEEK: a blood test for early cancer detection

CancerSEEK: a blood test for early cancer detection

 Illuminate newsletter, March 2018
March 2018

Professor Peter Gibbs and Associate Professor Jeanne Tie
(L-R) Professor Peter Gibbs and Associate Professor Jeanne Tie
have helped to develop a blood test for the early detection
of eight common cancers.

A US-led research team working with Australian collaborators has developed a new blood test, called CancerSEEK, for the early detection of eight common cancers.

The test can detect the presence of one of eight types of cancer: ovary, liver, stomach, pancreas, oesophagus, bowel, lung and breast. The test diagnoses tumours before they have spread, when the chance of cure is high, and can indicate where to begin looking for the cancer.

CancerSEEK was developed by researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, US. Also known as a liquid biopsy, the test detects tiny amounts of DNA and proteins released into the bloodstream from cancer cells.

One-stop screening

Institute scientists Associate Professor Jeanne Tie and Professor Peter Gibbs, who also have joint appointments at the Western Hospital, and Dr Hui-Li Wong were the only Australians who contributed to the project.

Professor Gibbs said CancerSEEK could accurately detect the early stages of cancer, well before symptoms were present.

“The newly developed blood-based cancer DNA test is exquisitely sensitive, accurately detecting one mutated fragment of DNA among 10,000 normal DNA fragments, literally ‘finding the needle in the haystack’,” Professor Gibbs said.

CancerSEEK was able to detect early-stage cancers in a median of 70 per cent of the eight cancer types. The test accurately detected between 69 and 98 per cent of people with five cancer types – pancreas, ovary, liver, stomach and oesophagus – for which no screening tests currently available.

Early diagnosis for better outcomes

Professor Gibbs said cancer mortality rates were directly related to how advanced a cancer is at diagnosis, so early detection tests were urgently needed.

“While screening tests already exist for some cancers, for many major tumour types there are no effective screening tests and each test can only screen for one cancer at a time.

“Importantly, less than one per cent of apparently healthy individuals received a positive result, meaning the test was rarely positive for people who don’t have cancer, reducing the problem of overdiagnosis,” Professor Gibbs said.

Associate Professor Tie said CancerSEEK had the potential to be a one-stop, safe screening test for multiple tumour types that should have high community acceptance.

"For the first time, we have the promise of a screening test that will lead to earlier diagnosis and improved survival outcomes for many tumour types," Associate Professor Tie said.

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