The routine cancer screening tests currently available and covered by Medicare detect only five cancer types—lung, breast, cervical, colorectal and prostate—which means there are no early detection tests for most cancer types.
But when cancer is detected early, nearly nine of every 10 cancer patients will live at least five years. The earlier the disease can be detected, the more lives that can be saved.
Cancer treatment has markedly improved in recent decades; however, even today 45 percent of all cancer deaths in the U.S. result from metastatic tumors—tumors which have spread to other parts of the body. An estimated 27 million people worldwide with detectable metastatic cancers do not receive effective treatment options because these metastases are found too late.
In the U.S., only one out of every five patients with metastatic cancer receives proper treatment, and three-quarters of those who do receive adequate therapy die within a year due to their disease progressing. In fact, 95 percent of all cancer deaths occur in countries without proper personalized cancer therapies which are available in the developed world.
Although the five major cancers accounted for 74 percent of new cases in 2016, they were not responsible for nearly two-thirds (62%) of cancer mortality that year—lung and bronchus cancers alone accounted for 34 percent of deaths from cancer that same year.
This means that increasing early detection rates beyond these five common cancers could potentially extend many lives just as it has for each of these five cancers.
According to a 2015 study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, as many as 30 percent of all cancer deaths might be prevented through greater use of routine cancer screening tests such as those currently available and covered by Medicare.
Multi-Cancer Screening Benefits
The field of medicine has seen incredible advances over recent decades when focused on detecting disease early can prevent nearly 90 percent of cancer-related deaths. Multi-cancer early detection is a groundbreaking new type of cancer screening test that utilizes advances in genomic science and machine learning to transform cancer detection. Early detection saves lives, however the benefits are not reaching enough people.
A blood test to screen for cancer in its early stages could save more lives than any other medical treatment, experts say. As population-scale clinical utility data proliferates, ARK believes a $1,500 price tag will unlock the multi-cancer screening market for those aged 65 to 80—the age range in which cancer is most likely present. As prices drop below this amount and technology advancements continue with innovations such as personalized medicine that can identify cancers at an individual level before they even become symptomatic or dangerous enough to seek medical attention; nearly all other ages could be screened cost effectively too! That’s potentially saving up 1+ million human life years across America alone
A single drop of blood may soon be able to identify dozens of types of cancer in their earliest stages, simultaneously screening for cancers that would be the most lethal if left untreated. The multi-cancer DNA test is sensitive enough to detect mutations caused by mutagens in tobacco smoke and other environmental factors which cause multiple different cancers at once. It also identifies less common forms of cancer such as pancreatic cancer, which has a five year survival rate below 8% even with treatment. Early detection would allow patients to pursue surgery or other treatments after they have been diagnosed, ensuring greater chance of survival.
Since this test can also identify pre-cancerous cells, medical professionals would be able to monitor a patient’s progress and give preventative treatment before cancer develops. Such a test could save millions of lives every year by allowing patients the chance to treat cancer in its earliest stages. The blood test is expected to have a three to five percent false positive rate, so it will only be used for screening purposes rather than as a diagnostic tool.
Researchers from Johns Hopkins University were recently awarded $3 million from the National Cancer Institute to further develop this multi-cancer DNA screen. The team began researching eleven different types of cancer, but have recently been focusing their attention on identifying pancreatic cancer because that specific type has such low survival rates even with early diagnosis.
Professor of oncology at Johns Hopkins University, Victor E. Velculescu, is leading the research team and commented that “In high-risk populations such as smokers, we could potentially screen every five years beginning at age 30.” This specific test has been in development since 2012 and its potential for saving millions of lives makes it one of the most promising cancer breakthroughs in recent history.