Breakthrough blood test detects cancers before symptoms arise, PET/CT confirms

Scientists have developed a breakthrough blood examination that can detect various cancers before symptoms arise, providing a path for earlier diagnosis and treatment.

The “first of its kind” liquid biopsy test was tested on 10,000 women without symptoms at multiple centers, pinpointing 26 undiagnosed cancers. After locating and confirming with PET/CT imaging, clinicians removed 12 of those cancers, according to a April 29 announcement.   

Results were shared Tuesday in Science, with experts also presenting them virtually the same day at the American Association for Cancer Research’s annual meeting.

"This study suggests that a multi-cancer blood test can be complementary and additive to standard-of-care screening and may be a good strategy for increasing early detection of cancer," Anne Marie Lennon, PhD, a professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins and lead author of the report, said in a statement.

Those involved say the study is the first ever prospective, interventional analysis using a blood test to screen for multiple cancer types in a real-world population. Experts at both Johns Hopkins and Geisinger enrolled thousands of women in the trial with no past history of cancer.

Massachusetts biotech company Thrive makes the tests, called “Thrive Earlier Detection.” In its own announcement, the firm noted that cancer is often detected far too late after patients begin experiencing symptoms. Their hope is that the blood test can begin to “significantly shift the paradigm” away from such symptom-detected cancers.

Thrive noted that, in the study population, only about 25% of women were diagnosed with cancer using traditional methods such as mammography. However by incorporating the blood test, the percentage of “screen detected” cancers leapt to 52%. Pairing the test with imaging helped minimize false positives, Thrive said, logging a 99.6% specificity rate.

“This study is a seminal moment in cancer screening that advances the entire field,” said Christoph Lengauer, PhD, co-founder and chief innovation officer of Thrive, said in the statement. “We learned that it can be both complementary to existing standard-of-care screening tools, and a significant benefit for many types of cancers like ovarian, appendix and kidney, which do not have any current screening modalities.”

All told, 96 women developed cancer in the study population, with 26 identified using the blood test across 10 organs, and 24 through standards screening methods. Another 46 were by symptoms or other methods.

Experts have cautioned that the tests are still in the early stages of development and require further refinement before routine use, STAT reported Tuesday.