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Share Bloomberg Opinion -- More thanAmericans are expected to die this year from cancer. The good news is that scientists are still working on improving our odds by finding new ways to expand the scope and accuracy of early testing.
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And they recently had a promising breakthrough. Cancers are much easier to treat if they can be caught before they spread. And yet aggressive screening can have downsides: Recent data show that mammograms cancer most aggressive treatment prostate cancer screenings have led people to have unnecessary surgeries and other invasive procedures for cancer most aggressive treatment that were unlikely to harm them. Such tests can mislead us about our risks.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University studied a group of 10, women between ages 65 and 75 with no history of cancer. In 26 of them, the blood test combined with full-body imaging revealed malignant tumors.
The results, published in Science, were impressive.
The 26 women with detected tumors got early treatments for cancer. All are still alive, and most are in remission. On their own, the blood tests generated false positives, but none of those women were mistakenly treated for cancer.
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Some had unnecessary follow-up tests, such as endoscopies, but none underwent surgeries. Bert Vogelstein, who was one of the authors of the study and has spent years working on early cancer most aggressive treatment detection, said the test relies on the fact that most cancers have at least one of 16 telltale genetic mutations.
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The blood tests can find it. The test detected a number of ovarian cancers, several lung cancers, and a uterine cancer.
In a previous study, he and colleagues at Johns Hopkins used a blood test on a set of confirmed pancreatic cancer patients and a control group with no known health problems. The test yielded a positive result for most of the cancer cases, and only one of the people in the control group.
Whether it was a false positive or an undetected cancer remained unknown.
This new study was the first of its kind done on subjects believed to be entirely healthy, and in which subjects were told their results so they could seek treatment. The false positives were presumed to be cancer free if no tumors were detected in the imaging, but only time will tell.
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The test is not ready for standard practice quite yet, but the promising results will lead to more studies to better understand who would benefit from such tests and how to best interpret the results. The coronavirus pandemic has brought with it a deluge of bad news, including that people are getting fewer screening tests.
But we should still celebrate good news where we can find it, and a breakthrough in cancer-detection research is undoubtedly something to cheer.
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This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners. Faye Flam is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. She has a degree in geophysics from the California Institute of Technology.
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