Blood Test for Cancer

A potential game changer

Flinders Medical Centre (FMC) researchers say a blood test being developed to detect oesophageal cancer could be a “game changer” because early results have indicated it could have the potential to help strategically treat one of the deadliest cancers at its earliest stage.

Oesophageal adenocarcinoma develops in the food pipe that carries food to the stomach and is the most common type of oesophageal cancer and by far the deadliest, with an overall death rate of 83 per cent in South Australia.

In Australia the majority of patients present at an advanced stage and more than 70 per cent are not considered suitable for surgery. Patients that undergo surgery combined with pre-operative chemotherapy and radiotherapy are often not cured and re-current disease is usually diagnosed when it’s advanced. A patient’s outlook depends on the stage of the cancer when it is diagnosed.

The disease, which has increased sixfold in the last three decades, has FMC researchers looking at how gene information in the blood changes as the disease progresses from the earliest stage to advanced cancer.

The team led by Head of Flinders University Department of Surgery at FMC, Professor David Watson and Senior Medical Scientist Dr Damian Hussey are using blood serum samples to discover if molecules called miRNAs found in blood are expressed differently depending on the stage of the disease, including for patients with Barrett’s oesophagus, a precursor condition that can sometimes develop into an oesophageal cancer.

“Current treatment and diagnosis of oesophageal adenocarcinoma is largely opportunistic, often found during endoscopy but surveillance can be invasive and inconvenient, with most people still presenting with advanced cancer,” Professor Watson says.

“If this blood test can reliably confirm the presence of oesophageal adenocarcinoma at its earliest stage, it could be a game changer because survival outcomes will dramatically improve if this cancer can be diagnosed early."

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