May 1 (UPI) -- A new blood-test approach for cancer screening was able to identify 26 previously undetected cases of the disease, according to the findings of a study published Friday by the journal Science.
The success of the new test, developed by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, marks the first type of liquid biopsy that has been used effectively to screen for cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Liquid biopsies -- testing blood for indicators of disease -- have been increasingly developed in recent years for a variety of diseases. The hope is for a less invasive form of biopsy, which traditionally involves surgical removal of tissue for evaluation.
"Our primary goal was to demonstrate reliability and safety -- to show the blood test could lead to the diagnosis of cancers and get patients to treatment aimed at curing them," Dr. Kenneth Kinzler, co-director of the Ludwig Center at Johns Hopkins, said in a statement.
While there are already effective screening approaches for colon, breast, lung and cervical cancers, some people are reluctant to undergo the procedures, either because of cost or potential discomfort -- hence the potential value of a non-invasive blood test.
For the study, Kinzler and his colleagues enrolled more than 10,000 adult women, of whom 9,911 underwent the blood testing. The test is designed to spot genetic mutations in patients' blood cells that indicate the presence of cancer.
Of the 26 cancers spotted with the test, nine were in the lung, six were in the ovaries, two were in the uterus, two were in the colon and two were lymphomas, or blood cancer.
Of these, 17 cancers were diagnosed at an early stage, when the tumors were still localized, as confirmed by PET-CT scans. In all, 12 women in the study underwent surgery with intent to cure.
In addition, of the 26 patients diagnosed with cancer using the blood test, 12 are in remission and eight remain in treatment or have stable disease.
The authors plan to follow all 9,911 participants, including those with positive and negative test results, for five years.
Notably, surveys conducted after the study with all of the participants showed that blood testing did not discourage participants from engaging in standard screening.
"This study suggests that a multi-cancer blood test can be complementary and additive to standard of care screening and may be a good strategy for increasing early detection of cancer," co-author Dr. Anne Marie Lennon, interim director of the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at Johns Hopkins, said in a statement.