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New Test Detects 14 Cancer Types at Stage I, When Most Curable

New research finds an early detection method for many cancers that could significantly improve cancer survival rates.

George Citroner, The Epoch Times, Dec 17, 2022

Cancer Growth May Rely On Metabolic Changes

Increasing evidence has shown that cancer cells’ rapid growth relies on a shift in their metabolism. 

Glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) are a type of sugar that plays an important part in metabolism. A 2016 study by Gatto indicated that these sugars were excellent biomarkers to non-invasively detect kidney cancer.

Francesco Gatto, Ph.D., study author from Chalmers University of Technology told The Epoch Times, GAGs feature structural changes in the blood and urine that appeared to be “a universal signature” across cancer types. 

This signature was detectable in very small, stage I cancers. 

Gatto and his team tested this marker across 14 cancer types, said Gatto. They developed a machine learning method that used algorithms to detect changes in GAGs that indicated cancer. 

New Test Has Up to 62 Percent Sensitivity to Stage I Cancer

The study included 1,260 healthy and cancer-diagnosed participants experiencing one of 14 cancer types. 34 percent of the patients had stage I - low-grade cancer.

When doing the test, only small amounts of blood or urine were required, making this method practical and inexpensive.

Gatto and his team first found the technique accurately detected the 14 cancer types they tested for, with up to 62 percent sensitivity to stage I disease.

They then discovered that twice as many stage I cancers in asymptomatic, healthy people could be detected, compared to DNA-based Multi-Cancer Early Detection (MCED) tests currently under development, which work by detecting genetic fragments from tumors that are found in the blood.

Using the GAGs test, patients with undetected cancer showed a 39 to 50 percent lower risk of death, and the test predicted cancer location with 89 percent accuracy.

Gatto said they still don’t fully understand why this happens. 

“However, the data quite clearly shows that the more extreme the GAG changes, the worse is the prognosis for cancer patients,” he noted. This may suggest cancers that affect GAGs are biologically very aggressive. 

Current Tests Don’t Detect Enough Early Cancers

Current screening tests are cancer-type-specific, meaning patients are tested separately for each cancer type. 

Current screening techniques rely on either direct visualization of cancer, followed by a biopsy or a blood or stool test, indicating that cancer is likely. The requirement for imaging is expensive and requires travel to a hospital or imaging center as well as specific expertise.

The interpretation of imaging results also depends on the skill of the individual who is either doing the colonoscopy, reading the mammogram, or a computerized tomography (CT) scan.

However, these methods only detect some kinds of cancer and aren’t very effective at finding cancer at the earliest stage.

Therefore, “tumors that are allowed to grow and spread often develop multiple mutations, which make them less likely to respond to therapy,” said William L. Dahut, MD, chief scientific officer for the American Cancer Society (ACS).

Dahut emphasized that blood-based tests like that developed by Gatto could potentially detect cancer earlier than an imaging test, providing a “roadmap” to who needs imaging and allowing for a wide variety of cancers to be screened with a single test.

“The use of metabolism as a screening technique is novel that has definite potential, and the early results are promising,” he said.

He pointed out that additional studies should be done to show tests like this have a clinical impact beyond just detecting malignant cells. 

Study Was ‘Proof of Concept’

Gatto said his research was a “proof of concept” study that only analyzed about one thousand patients, and we should wait for confirmation in much larger ones involving 10,000 or more. 

“We did already confirm some findings within this study, which is encouraging but limited by the number of patients tested,” he said. 

Gatto added that there appear to be some conditions, such as acute inflammation, that can also change GAGs. So, they need to monitor and confirm which subjects would be “most suitable for a test based on GAGs.” 

A clinical trial is already underway and results are slated for 2025. Gatto is hopeful that this method could be used in pilot hospital settings sometime after that.

Cancer Incidence Rising

Advances in cancer screening technology are needed more than ever.

A recent review of cancer registry records from 44 countries finds that the incidence of early-onset cancers has increased for many types, some specifically affecting our digestive system. This increase is seen throughout middle and high-income countries.

The review authors believe some of the upswings in younger adults are partly happening because there are now highly sensitive tests for some cancers. These include breast, prostate, and thyroid. 

However, testing doesn’t completely account for the increase.

They found that starting in the 1990s, worldwide trends including increased obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and a western-style diet high in saturated fats, red meat, processed meat, sugar, and ultra-processed foods might have a significant role.

“Cancer-related lifestyle factors in adulthood often originate from childhood and/or adolescence,” the review authors wrote.

They emphasized the importance of encouraging being active, eating a healthy diet, and avoiding alcohol and tobacco as important methods of primary cancer prevention.

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