Ground-breaking new method for multi-cancer early detection

Medicine doctor hand working with modern computer interface as concept

When cancer is detected at an early stage, the rates of survival increase drastically, but today only a few cancer types are screened for. An international study led by researchers from Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, shows that a new, previously untested method can easily find multiple types of newly formed cancers at the same time — including cancer types that are difficult to detect with comparable methods.

Cancer is one of the deadliest diseases in the world and is more difficult to cure when detected at a late stage.

Finding effective methods for early detection of several types of cancer at the same time, so-called Multi-Cancer Early Detection (MCED), is an emerging research area. Today’s established screening tests are cancer type-specific, which means that patients need to be tested for each cancer type separately. Emerging MCED tests under development are usually based on genetics, for example measuring DNA fragments from tumours circulating in the blood. But DNA-based methods can only detect some types of cancer and have limited ability to find tumours at the earliest stage, so called stage I.

New method based on human metabolism

Now, in an international collaboration, researchers from Chalmers have developed a new method for multi-cancer early detection that is instead based on human metabolism. The results, which have been published in the scientific journal PNAS, uncover new opportunities for cheaper and more effective cancer screening. In a study totalling 1 260 participants, the researchers first discovered that the new method could detect all 14 cancer types that were tested. Next, they showed that twice as many stage I cancers in asymptomatic healthy people can be detected with the new method compared to the emerging DNA-based MCED tests.

“This is a previously unexplored method, and thanks to the fact that we have been able to test it in a large population, we can show that it is effective in finding more stage I cancers and more cancer types. The method makes it possible to find cancer types that are not screened for today and cannot be found with DNA-based MCED tests, such as brain tumours and kidney cancer,” says Francesco Gatto, who is a visiting researcher at the Department of Biology and Biological Engineering at Chalmers and one of the study’s authors.

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