In Brief

Liquid biopsy: new cancer test ‘is holy grail’ of early detection

Simple blood test may save countless lives by enabling diagnosis years before symptoms appear

A new blood test with the potential to detect up to ten different cancers long before any symptoms appear may be available on the NHS within five years, scientists have announced.

The procedure, known as a liquid biopsy, is being hailed as a major breakthrough in cancer treatment, after trials on more than 1,600 patients found that the test worked with up to 90% accuracy. 

“This is potentially the holy grail of cancer research, to find cancers that are currently hard to cure at an earlier stage when they are easier to cure,” said lead study author Dr Eric Klein, from the Cleveland Clinic’s Taussig Cancer Institute, in Ohio. “We hope this test could save many lives.”

The test screens for the disease by detecting tiny fragments of DNA released by cancer cells into the bloodstream. The research - presented at the annual conference of the American Society of Clinical Oncologists, in Chicago - found that the procedure was particularly effective for spotting ovarian and pancreatic cancers.

However, the number of patients in whom cancers were detected in the trials was small. For example, although the test was able to detect ovarian cancer with 90% accuracy, only ten ovarian cancers in total were detected, The Guardian reports.

Nonetheless, liquid biopsies could “dramatically reshape the way that care for cancer and other inherited diseases is delivered”, says The Independent.

Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, said the test has the potential to “unlock enormous survival gains” across the NHS.

“As the NHS marks its 70th anniversary, we stand on the cusp of a new era of personalised medicine that will dramatically transform care for cancer and for inherited and rare diseases,” he added. 

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