While not ready for application any time soon, the concept of a universal cancer test does hold promise. Of course, like all tests and screening, questions will be raised what to do with the results, given risks of false positives and unnecessary treatment. Still, cool science:
The new work is part of a wave of research on using either cells shed into the blood by tumors or free-floating tumor DNA in blood to track the growth and spread of tumors and tailor treatments. The free tumor DNA tests generally rely on looking for known alterations in cancer genes to distinguish cancerous DNA from normal DNA. Seeking a way to detect tumor DNA without knowing its genetic makeup beforehand, postdoctoral researcher Rebecca Leary and others in the labs of Victor Velculescu and Luis Diaz at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, and collaborators at other institutions took advantage of an observation they and others have made: No matter the type of cancer, tumor cells almost invariably have substantially altered chromosomes, such as swapped pieces and extra copies of certain genes. This suggests that a test that could detect any chromosomal abnormalities in a person’s blood could serve as a general test for cancer.