Is this — at last — the silver bullet, the breakthrough cancer patients and their loved ones have longed for and prayed for, year after year, decade after decade? A new blood test, or “liquid biopsy’’, has been developed for the early detection of eight common cancers before symptoms emerge and tumours begin their insidious, deadly spread. By allowing early treatment, when cure rates are highest, the test, known as CancerSEEK, promises to save lives and spare millions of people painful treatments, transforming clinical practices. In the longer term, it could relieve health costs.
Patients and their loved ones who have endured cut-poison-burn regimes and horrible side effects for months on end know the test can’t come soon enough for finding cancers for which no effective screenings are available for people with average risk — pancreatic, ovarian, oesophageal, stomach and liver cancers. The test will also detect early breast, bowel and lung cancers. Eventually, the simple blood test could replace more invasive procedures that only screen for one form of the disease at a time. But for now, colonoscopies and mammograms must be continued.
The Australian applauds scientists at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, the University of Melbourne, the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and Western Health in Melbourne who were part of the project, led by Johns Hopkins University in the US. Cutting-edge science is a field in which Australians consistently excel.
About 130,000 new cases of cancer are diagnosed each year in Australia and about 47,000 people die from the disease. Advances in treatments have improved survival rates, at great cost. CancerSEEK, in its simplicity and comprehensive reach, promises much. As its developers note in the first line of their paper, earlier detection is key to reducing cancer deaths.