Breakthrough in early identification of cancer cells

by Romana Greene

Everyone knows someone who has been impacted by cancer. It is one of the greatest killers in the world today and it can impact people young and old, healthy, and unhealthy. There are so many types of cancer today that affect so many different parts of the body that it is impossible to design a test that adequately detects the development of all cancers early. There are so many potential causes that people really have no idea how to live in the modern world without doing something that may cause cancer. Every day a new report is released that says something may cause cancer. Whether it is using your mobile phone, eating processed foods, spending too much, or too little time outside, everything at one time or another appears to cause cancer.

Statistics from the World Health Organization show just how deadly cancer is. Across the entire global population, lung cancer is ranked sixth in the list of biggest killers, heart disease is number one. If all cancers were combined it could take the first spot. In upper-middle income populations, stomach and liver cancer also feature in the top ten. In upper-income populations, colon and breast cancers are in the top ten as well as lung cancer. Comparisons from 2016 to 2000 show that cancer is climbing the rankings across the board. The reason cancer kills so many people is because we don’t detect it early enough.

Many of the visible symptoms that cancer has arrive when it is too late to properly cure the disease. There are so many cancers that people can potentially get testing for but testing each one would be incredibly expensive and make little sense unless there was an efficient way to do so.

A new breakthrough study may have found an incredibly efficient and easy way to identify the development of cancer at a very early stage. The test has been developed by an international group of scientists and appears to have artificial intelligence at its foundation. 

It is based on taking a blood test, which is one of the most efficient and cost-effective ways to test for the disease. When taking a blood sample the scientists looked for changes in the DNA pattern or methylation patterns. It is believed that when someone has cancer and tumor cells die they go into the bloodstream. This change in the bloodstream is incredibly difficult to pinpoint. To date, it has been too difficult for humans to spot the difference between changes caused by cancer cells and non cancer cells. Yet a pattern does exist.

The scientists put artificial intelligence to work and used it to find a pattern in the changing blood cells. After studying countless cases it appears to have created an algorithm that will allow it to identify up to 50 different types of cancer in the body and pinpoint where they are located. So far the test has accurately predicted the location of cancer cells 90% of the time and only incorrectly cited the existence of a cancer cell 0.7% of the time. 

The test requires a lot more analysis before it is ready to be rolled out to everyday hospitals but initial results are very encouraging. The area of early detection is something that many people are working on. They have had huge success in bringing forward the detection of various types of cancer but the issue has always been that they can usually only detect one in each test. This makes testing quite difficult as no one will go to these lengths unless they have symptoms and when people have symptoms it is no longer early.

This test marks the first time that a wide number of cancers can be captured in one simple blood test. This could be one of the first signs showing the incredible life-saving potential of artificial intelligence and an early indicator of how medicine and health systems will develop in the future.

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