New Blood Test Detects Cancer Before Symptoms Start

A new blood test developing at Johns Hopkins can detect early-stage cancer regardless of symptoms.

[DIGEST: Johns Hopkins Medicine, Science Translational Medicine, CDC, Health Guidance, Cancer Research UK, New York Times, Roche, NBC News, American Cancer Society]

A team of scientists at the Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center are developing a new noninvasive blood test to detect early-stage cancer, long before symptoms occur. They recently published their findings after an initial study of 200 patients.

According to the report, early detection is pivotal in reducing and preventing the death of the 14 million people diagnosed with cancer worldwide each year. It goes on to say: “Much of morbidity and mortality in human cancer is related to the late diagnosis of this disease, where surgical and pharmacologic therapies are less effective.”

Cancer Claims Over Half a Million Each Year in the United States

In 2015, cancer was the second leading cause of death in the United States with 595,930 recorded cases. Heart disease, the number one cause of death, claimed only 38,000 more lives than cancer. Chronic lower respiratory disease trailed behind as a distant third with 155,041 cases.

Unless a patient is at high risk for cancer and has sufficient medical coverage for regular screenings, cancer is usually detected and diagnosed only after the early-stages, when the patient begins experiencing symptoms and is seen by a doctor. By this time the cancer cells have already begun to spread, and the patient’s chance of survival and recovery significantly decreases.

For example, pancreatic cancer is known as a silent killer, with no discernible signs or symptoms until it has already developed well into the late stages. Even then, the symptoms are often and easily confused with other conditions. Consequently, pancreatic cancer has a very low survival rate, making it the fourth most common cause of cancer-related death.

Screening Tests for Common Types of Cancer

While testing for cancer is important, especially for those at high risk due to age, heredity, or exposure, current cancer detection methods themselves pose certain risks.  Typical screening methods for common types of cancer include the following:

LungSpiral CT Scan
OvarianTransvaginal Ultrasound
CervicalPap Smears
ProstateProstate-Specific Antigen Test
Skin Tissue Biopsy


Screenings for four of the biggest cancers — breast, colon, lung, ovarian — require X-ray imaging or invasive surgical procedures, such as painful biopsies, that entail discomfort and the possibilities of health risk, false-positive results, overdiagnosis, and overtreatment.

The scientists at Johns Hopkins hope to change all of that with their development of a better, painless testing method capable of detecting early-stage cancer, without all the risks.

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