There’s a brand-new blood test on the horizon — and I’m so fascinated by it that I had to share it with you right away.
The test is called CancerSEEK. And if the name hasn’t tipped you off already, here’s why it’s making headlines: It’s able to identify eight of the most common cancers — ovarian, liver, esophageal, pancreatic, stomach, colorectal, lung, and breast cancer.
I doubt I have to explain why this is such exciting news. The possibility that a simple blood screen could offer as much information as painful and invasive procedures like mammograms and colonoscopies — at a fraction of the cost — is a really big deal. And if this new test holds up in clinical trials, that reality may not be too far off.
CancerSEEK works by evaluating the presence of cancer gene mutations in circulating tumor DNA (which is shed from a tumor or tumor cells into the bloodstream), as well as the levels of eight different cancer protein biomarkers. In doing so, it’s able to screen for all eight of the cancers I mentioned above — which, put together, account for more than half of all cancer deaths in the country — with a surprising degree of specificity.
This really caught my attention, because I’ve been assessing these biomarkers in my patients for decades already. The tests come in handy, but they aren’t the most accurate. Obviously, though, they’re a lot more valuable when analyzed alongside tumor DNA — which isn’t always detectable in cancer’s earliest stages.
That brings me to another key benefit of this new approach to testing: Five out of eight of the cancers identified by CancerSEEK — ovary, liver, stomach, pancreatic, and esophageal — currently have no screening test at all. And by the time they’re discovered, it’s often too late.
With this new blood test, however, these cancers are detected early enough in the disease process that surgery alone might be a sufficient cure. But even when further treatment is necessary, there’s no question that less advanced disease responds better to chemotherapy and radiation.
I’ve railed on our system’s barbaric “cut-poison-burn” approach plenty here. But the sad fact is that when you’re up against aggressive disease, that’s really all we’ve got. And your body is far better equipped to withstand these ravages before cancer has advanced to later stages.
Early detection means better outcomes all around. And CancerSEEK delivers: The average median sensitivity, also known as the true positive rate, was 78 percent for stage III cancers. (In other words, 78 percent of sick people were correctly identified as having cancer.) Additionally, this test resulted in 73 percent sensitivity for stage II cancers, and 43 percent for stage I cancers (including a 100-percent sensitivity for stage I liver cancer — one of the fastest rising health threats today).
Overall sensitivity for all eight cancers was 70 percent — with sensitivities ranging from 69 percent to 98 percent for the five cancers we can’t currently screen for. And just as importantly, the risk of a false positive result was less than 1 percent.
Don’t run out and ask your doc for this test just yet, though. There’s still a ways to go before CancerSEEK gets the green light for clinical use. But when it does finally hit the market, it’s poised to be a game changer. Especially given that it will likely cost less than $500.
That’s a whole lot of information for not that much money. And it’s certainly less expensive than many of our current screening methods. (For reference, a colonoscopy can run over $5,000 out of pocket.)
CancerSEEK isn’t perfect. But it is an exciting development in an arena that desperately needs new and better methods for screening and diagnosis. So I wanted to be the first to share it with you. And when it’s finally ready for prime time, I’ll make sure you’re also the first to know.
In the meantime, there are plenty of cancer screening alternatives you can ask your doctor about today. To learn more, simply head over to my website, www.drpescatore.com, and search my archives using the keyword “screening.”