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New cancer test invented

SCIENCE

Scientists at Harvard University have created a new blood test that can detect more than 20 different types of cancer. The test looks for subtle genetic changes associated with the development of tumours. In trials, the test proved almost 100 percent accurate: when tried on nearly 3,600 samples, 99.4 percent of cancer patients were correctly diagnosed. In 89 percent of cases, the test also successfully pinpointed the source of the cancer.

Funded by biotech company Grail Inc, the test uses next-gen sequencing technology to search aberrant DNA for traces of methylation. More often than not, abnormal patterns of methylation turn out to be indicative of cancer. According to Geoffrey Oxnard, one of the researchers who carried out the study, the methylation-based test is more effective than the liquid biopsies currently used to detect DNA mutations. The results of this study show that methylation analysis is a more appropriate method in cancer screening, he said.

The hope, say the researchers, is that the test will enable cancer patients to be diagnosed and treated sooner, which would significantly boost the chance of recovery. “Detecting even a modest percent of common cancers early could translate into many patients who may be able to receive more effective treatment if the test were in wide use,” Oxnard added.

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