Much of the progress towards treating cancer in recent years has come in early detection. Being able to diagnose cancer in the early stages of the disease usually improves the odds of beating it.
So, the news from the University of California is creating excitement among oncologists. Researchers there say they have created a blood test called CancerLocator that not only tells doctors that a patient has cancer, but tells them where the cancer is in the body.
The test works by identifying DNA from cancer that is circulating in the blood stream.
"Non-invasive diagnosis of cancer is important, as it allows the early diagnosis of cancer, and the earlier the cancer is caught, the higher chance a patient has of beating the disease,” Jasmine Zhou, co-lead author from UCLA, told the London Telegraph.
Zhou concedes the technology is only beginning to be understood and has a long way to go before it can be usefully deployed.
Other scientists are also working on this technique. As we reported in 2015, researchers at the Mayo Clinic announced progress on a blood test that could diagnose cancer. As in the UCLA study, the technology centers around identifying cancer DNA in blood samples.
“What’s exciting about our discovery is that it allows us to stop thinking about screening organs and start thinking about screening people,” Mayo Clinic's Dr. John Kisiel said at the time. “As far as we are aware, this is the first series of experiments that has ever shown this concept.”
At the other end of the technology spectrum, the French news agency AFP reports researchers have trained dogs to detect breast cancer by sniffing bandages that touched a breast.
Remarkably, the researchers report the dogs have been 100% accurate. AFP quotes Isabelle Fromantin, who leads the project, as saying the system could be useful in developing countries where there is limited access to mammograms.
Fromantin said breast cancer cells have a unique smell that German shepherds, with their keen sense of smell, can be trained to detect.