CLEVELAND, OH (CBS Local) – A new type of blood screening is being called the “holy grail of cancer research” by scientists who say the test can detect the disease before tumors even form in the body.

The Details:

  • A new blood test is successfully finding cancer before tumors form
  • A liquid biopsy tests human DNA for genetic mutations linked to cancer
  • The tests proved capable of detecting several hard-to-treat forms of the disease

“This is potentially the holy grail of cancer research, to find cancers that are currently hard to cure at an earlier stage when they are easier to cure,” lead researcher Dr. Eric Klein of the Cleveland Clinic said, via Tech Times. “We hope this test could save many lives.”

The blood test, called a liquid biopsy, examines the patient’s DNA for genetic mutations, which signal that cancer has already affected a person’s genes. Klein’s team examined 1,600 patients, 878 of the patients were recently diagnosed with cancer. The biopsy was reportedly most effective in detecting pancreatic, ovarian, liver, and gallbladder cancers, which are much more difficult to treat if not diagnosed early.

“Far too many cancers are picked up too late, when it is no longer possible to operate and the chances of survival are slim,” Prof. Nicholas Turner from London’s Institute of Cancer Research said, via The Guardian. “The goal is to develop a blood test, such as this one, that can accurately identify cancers in their earliest stages.”

For several different cancers, the new blood test was able to accurately detect the disease in over 80 percent of affected patients. The liquid biopsy proved to be less effective in screening for lung, head, and neck cancers, with a success rate under 60 percent.

Dr. Klein says the procedure still needs more testing but suggested that this “holy grail” could eventually become a standard screening method for people as they age. “It could be given to healthy adults of a certain age, such as those over 40, to see if they have early signs of cancer.”