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Noninvasive prenatal testing used to detect cancer

While testing fetal DNA for abnormalities, researchers detected early-stage cancer in women long before symptoms could be seen.

By Stephen Feller
Noninvasive prenatal testing used to detect cancer
Non-invasive prenatal testing, used to detecct genomic abnormalities in a fetus, was found to also detect early stage cancer in pregnant women. Photo: Poznyakov/Shutterstock

LEUVEN, Belgium, June 8 (UPI) -- With the rise of using non-invasive prenatal testing, or NIPT, for Down's syndrome and other conditions, researchers have found that they also can reliably detect early stage maternal cancers with the same test.

During a study on the efficacy of NIPT for fetal genetic disorders, researchers detected genetic abnormalities in three women that resembled cancer and after further testing discovered early-stage ovarian carcinoma, follicular lymphoma, and Hodgkin's lymphoma.

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Rather than traditional tests such as amniocentesis that carry the risk of miscarriage, NIPT examines fetal DNA from the mother's blood.

"Using the new, adapted test in over 6000 pregnancies, and looking at other chromosomes, we identified three different genomic abnormalities in three women that could not be linked to either the maternal or foetal genomic profile," Nathalie Brison, PhD, a senior scientist in the Clinical Cytogenetics laboratory at the Centre for Human Genetics, UZ Leuven, in a press release. "We realised that the abnormalities bore a resemblance to those found in cancer, and referred the women to the oncology unit."

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Two of the three diagnosed women were treated for early stage cancer, one during her pregnancy, while the other did not require treatment at that time. NIPT also, researchers said, allowed doctors to better monitor treatment for the cancers.

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"We now know that it is possible to offer the accurate detection of chromosomally imbalanced cancers to the general population via minimally invasive screening methods," Brison said. "The normalization of the NIPT profile in these patients following treatment indicates that we can also measure response to treatment as early as after the first administration of chemotherapy."

The study is published in Oncology.

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