Could A Simple Blood Test Improve Cancer Detection [and Treatment] Rates?

Cancer, of course, is among the most proficient diseases facing all of human kind. Indeed, nearly 40 percent of all men and women will be affected by cancer in their lifetime (and probably closer to 80 percent will know someone dealing with it). There are many different types of cancer, so even though we understand how the disease develops and what can cause it, treating cancer is extremely difficult.

Even detecting it, sometimes, can be much harder than we expect.

What we might want to do instead, then, is to be more proactive: attempt to more accurately determine cancer risk as early as possible. This would help doctors to stay ahead of the disease, offering more preventive advice and early diagnoses (which tend make treatment easier and more successful). Of course, there are both inherited and environmental factors that can contribute to the development of this disease.

Research shows that our genetics might also contribute to our risk for cancer, so scientists are looking to our human genome for more answers. The genome is comprised of roughly 20,000 genes, and each of these genes contains the universal molecular building block known as DNA. Over time, different things can damage—and mutate—our DNA which, as scientists explain, can lead to a higher risk for things like cancer. From ultraviolet light to household chemicals to natural toxins in the air to voluntary toxins we ingest (smoking tobacco or drinking alcohol, for example), our unique combination of exposures can affect, basically, our risk for cancer.

As such, researchers say that our DNA might be the best cancer detection tool. As UCSD Moores Cancer Center fellow Yulia Khagi, MD, attests, “We can help predict response to immunotherapy by measuring the number of mutations in circulating tumor DNA [ctDNA] using a simple blood test.”

This simple blood test is just the right amount of technology—accessible, affordable, accurate—to make cancer detection more successful for more people around the world. More importantly, perhaps, detection in this way might actually help us to better understand which patients will have better success with emerging immunotherapy treatments.

Dr. Razelle Kuzrock MD notes, “Mutations lead to the production of abnormal proteins; the more mutations and abnormal proteins the tumors produce, the better the chance that one or more of these proteins will be ‘detected’ by the immune system. The UCSD Center for Personalized Cancer Therapy director adds, “We showed that counting the mutations in the DNA floating in the bloodstream could help predict response to these new and exciting drugs that boost the immune system to attack cancer.”