Breakthrough in cancer research: new blood test detects over 50 types of cancer

Breakthrough in cancer research: new blood test detects over 50 types of cancer

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New blood test can detect a wide range of cancers

In the midst of the corona crisis, cancer research reports a breakthrough: A new blood test has been shown to be able to identify over 50 different types of cancer with high accuracy and to reveal the location of the tumors in the body.

Under the leadership of the renowned non-profit organizations Dana-Farber Cancer Institute at Harvard Medical School and the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, USA, an international research team developed a blood test that is able to detect over 50 types of cancer and their origin in the body display. The cancer test was recently presented in the specialist journal "Annals of Oncology".

A breakthrough in cancer screening

In a study that included thousands of participants, a new blood test identified more than 50 types of cancer and their location in the body with high accuracy. The research team from the world's most recognized institutions attributes the test to a new key role in cancer screening. Early detection, in turn, is critical in cancer treatment.

What is also special about the test is that among the types of cancer that can be detected by the test, there are some particularly dangerous forms for which there are no standard methods for early detection.

How does the test work?

The test takes advantage of the latest knowledge from genetics to analyze the arrangement of chemical units on the DNA of cancer cells. These units are called methyl groups. These groups adhere to certain sections of DNA and control whether genes are active or inactive.

In cancer cells, however, the arrangement of these methyl groups differs significantly from normal cells. The patterns of these groups provide a precise indication of which cancer it is. When cancer cells die, their DNA and the adhering methyl groups are emptied into the blood, where they can then be measured by the new test.

A test for everyone

"Our previous work has already shown that methylation-based tests outperform traditional DNA sequencing approaches to detect multiple forms of cancer in blood samples," explains Dr. Geoffrey Oxnard of the Dana Faber Institute, who together with Dr. med. Minetta Liu from the Mayo Clinic led the study. Current results suggest that this test is a viable method to screen people for a variety of different types of cancer.

What types of cancer does the test detect?

In the study, the researchers used the test to analyze 6,689 blood samples. 2,482 samples were from people with a known cancer. In addition, 4,207 samples from people who were not diagnosed with cancer were examined. More than 50 types of cancer were represented among the samples from the cancer patients, including:

  • Breast cancer,
  • Colon cancer,
  • Esophageal cancer,
  • Gallbladder cancer,
  • Bladder cancer,
  • Stomach cancer,
  • Ovarian cancer,
  • Throat cancer,
  • Lung cancer,
  • Lymphoid leukemia,
  • Multiple myeloma,
  • Pancreatic cancer.
  • How accurate is the test?

    In the study, the test was able to identify the cancers with an accuracy of 99.3 percent. The presence of cancer was incorrectly diagnosed in 0.7 percent of the cases. In addition, in more than 90 percent of the cases, the test was able to correctly identify which organ or tissue was affected by the cancer.

    Test still needs to be reviewed on a broader level

    "Our results show that this approach to testing cell-free DNA in the blood can detect a wide range of cancers in virtually every stage of the disease, with specificity and sensitivity approaching the level required for population-level screening," concludes Oxnard . In a subsequent study, the blood test will now be tested on other participants, mainly on people with an increased risk of cancer, in order to further investigate and improve the reliability. (vb)

    Author and source information

    This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

    Graduate editor (FH) Volker Blasek


    • Dana-Farber: New blood test can detect wide range of cancers, now available to at risk individuals in clinical study at Dana-Farber (published: 30.03.2020),
    • M.C. Liu1, G.R. Oxnard, E.A. Klein, including: Sensitive and specific multi-cancer detection and localization using methylation signatures in cell-free DNA; in: Annals of Oncology, 2020,

    Video: Advancements in Lung Cancer Detection and Treatment (November 2022).