A Blood Test to Detect Cancer
It is a revolutionary discovery. French oncologist Patrizia Paterlini-Bréchot at the Necker Children’s University Teaching Hospital has developed a blood test which detects all cancers at an early stage.
French health minister Marisol Touraine regards this new test as the ‘promise of a major shift in cancer treatment because it is particularly simple to use, and therefore easy to implement on a larger scale’.
This technical feat, achieved by Patrizia Paterlini-Bréchot, a professor of cellular biology and oncologie at the Necker Children’s University Teaching Hospital (University of Paris-Descartes) consists in detecting the cancerous invasion at the very beginning of the disease. ‘Thanks to tests on animals, we knew that these (cancerous) cells are present in the blood for years before the appearance of metastases, and patients die because of these metastases, not because of the initial tumor. Just as the AIDS virus does, these cells mutate, and because of this have time to become more and more resistant,’ said the researcher.
After seven years of research, a large box has been produced in which the tests called ISET (Isolation by Size of Tumor cells) can be carried out. This test can detect the presence of these tumor cells which are larger than blood cells among the 5 billion red blood cells and 100 billion white blood cells in 10ml of blood.
The efficiency of the test has been proven by the results obtained at the university teaching hospital in Nice, where a cohort of at-risk patients (heavy smokers with pulmonary disease) was followed for 6 years. Thanks to the test, researchers detected tumor cells in the blood of five patients well before the lung cancer was visible on an x-ray. The patients underwent an operation, and were cured of this most lethal of cancers.
When the tumor cells are identified in the blood, specific medical imaging examinations are required to screen for the tumor, she explained. Based on your predispositions and your medical history, we begin for example with the breast in a woman and the prostate in a man, and scan the whole body if we do not find it. In the future it should be possible to identify the organ from which the tumor cells come and thereby save time. Proteins found in the cancer cells will indicate in which organ they originated.
It will also be possible to use this test for patients who are in remission in order to verify that the cancer has not returned, and allow oncologists to change and adapt treatments for diagnosed patients. The test has recently come onto the market, costs 486€ and is not reimbursed by social security. Even if it is not useful for everyone, and not widely available, it seems that this major discovery, if developed on a larger scale, will increase life expectancy in mankind. Worldwide, 15 million cases of cancer occur every year.