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UK Team Claims Breakthrough In Universal Cancer Test 63

An anonymous reader writes UK researchers say they've devised a simple blood test that can be used to diagnose whether people have cancer or not. The Lymphocyte Genome Sensitivity (LGS) test looks at white blood cells and measures the damage caused to their DNA when subjected to different intensities of ultraviolet light (UVA), which is known to damage DNA. The results of the empirical study show a distinction between the damage to the white blood cells from patients with cancer, with pre-cancerous conditions and from healthy patients. "Whilst the numbers of people we tested are, in epidemiological terms, quite small (208), in molecular epidemiological terms, the results are powerful," said the team's lead researcher. "We've identified significant differences between the healthy volunteers, suspected cancer patients and confirmed cancer patients of mixed ages at a statistically significant level .... This means that the possibility of these results happening by chance is 1 in 1000." The research is published online in the FASEB Journal, the U.S. Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.
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UK Team Claims Breakthrough In Universal Cancer Test

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  • We'll see this technology applied in... 20 years? Reading /. is sometimes painful.
    • by Adriax ( 746043 )

      And until it does reach the public for real, expect a flood of scams citing this as proof their quick test works. Just send a drop of blood and $10,000 and get your cancer test results in a couple days!
      The sooner the real thing goes through trials the better. Assuming it does lead to a legitimate test, that is.

      I wonder if the homeopaths are going to twist this into a cure? Dilute UV light in water, instant all cancer cure.
      At least it would be a step up from the usual bottled water they sell. This stuff woul

    • Re:So... (Score:4, Informative)

      by Edis Krad ( 1003934 ) on Tuesday July 29, 2014 @01:09AM (#47555267)
      From TFA

      The University of Bradford has filed patents for the technology and a spin-out company, Oncascan, has been established to commercialise the research.

      And they already have a website [] running.

      I'd say under 5 years before we start seeing this applied in the wild.

    • by rew ( 6140 )

      They found a statistical relationship between the results from "normal" people and "people with cancer". This means that it MIGHT be possible to develop this into a test.

      But this "result" (a statistical difference) might be that they got an average score of 98 +/- 10 for the healty people and 102 +/- 10 for the people-with-cancer. So someone who scores 100, healty or has cancer? 105? Can still go both ways.

  • How many Societies for Experimental Biology does a country -- even a big one -- need?

    • 27, according to their website []. They do cover a wide range of disciplines at least. I was going to note that the Genetics Society of America and the American Society of Human Genetics seem like they'd have a lot of overlap, but then I noticed that they're headquartered at the same address, so I imagine they came to a similar conclusion at some point.

      • by Nutria ( 679911 )

        so I imagine they came to a similar conclusion at some point.

        Twelve other Societies and the FASEB also have the same Bethesda address, but different phone numbers. Maybe FASEB is contracting out administrative functions?

        • Ah, I didn't think to look at the other societies. They do apparently have a large campus [] at that address, so I guess they probably have real office space for those societies there. The property was a country estate when they bought it- now it's inside the Beltway.

  • Cause/Effect? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by RyanFenton ( 230700 ) on Tuesday July 29, 2014 @12:33AM (#47555169)

    Sounds like generalized damage to white blood cells they're detecting. It's my understanding that "cancers" of a sort kind of exist in pockets in most everyone - they're just not the sort that get aggressive and kill people, because those mutant pockets just don't break enough of the rules of good cell conduct yet to count as a notable risk.

    My big issue with the methodology is that when anyone has already detectable active cancer, they usually are on chemo, or too sick to stop the progress... both of which will cause generalized damage to the body's defenses. If they can reliably distinguish the kinds of damage though, that would be a nice development.

    Even as it is stated, sounds useful to help distinguish some symptoms from cancer perhaps - but it seems this could also correlate with radiation damage or other generalized damage too. Cool study all the same - perhaps may help lead to cheaper or more automated screening at some level.

    Ryan Fenton

    • This also relates to the problem of the "cure for cancer" that will never be found because "cancer" isn't a single illness but a generic name for a huge range of different ones, with a wide range of etiologies and manifestations. A single "test for cancer" seems about as likely as a single "test for virus".

      As you say, it's a cool study, but like far too many other studies I think it got released to the PR department of the research institute a bit too early (I've experienced this myself on several occasion

  • ...before all those expensive colonoscopy and mammogram centers start trying to debunk this.

    I can't wait for this to start debunking them..
  • by Anonymous Coward

    There are roughly 1 million research papers published annually. That's well over 2000 per day on average. Meaning that with P=1/1000 we'll get completely random results at least twice a day!

  • by kaliann ( 1316559 ) on Tuesday July 29, 2014 @12:42AM (#47555189)

    This could be a giant step forward in cancer diagnostics, but media reports are - of course - sensationalizing beyond evidence.

    In the study, the types of tumors tested share some similarities that might mean findings true of them would not be true of "all cancers". Specifically, none of the lesions tested were tumors of mesenchymal origin. No sarcomas, no fibromas, no leukemias. That's a broad range to not examine, and it means that generalizing this as a test for "all cancers" is premature. Additionally, none of the tumors tested were types that tend to show up in places that lymphocytes have trouble getting to (like the brain, eye, and portions of the reproductive tract).

    It is good that they tested against COPD (a chronic inflammatory condition), but it does not appear as if they could distinguish between less-aggressive tumors and inflammatory conditions (I can't tell for sure because of the paywall). It may be that this is a test that is a good indicator of chronic inflammation (seen in many cancers as well as other conditions) rather than a cancer-specific test.

    Regardless of the limitations of the preliminary sample set, the findings are very exciting and a potentially amazing discovery in cancer medicine. Kudos to the hardworking scientists involved!

  • Link to abstract (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Michael Woodhams ( 112247 ) on Tuesday July 29, 2014 @12:46AM (#47555199) Journal

    Here is the abstract []. The actual paper is behind a paywall.

    "ROC analysis of [the test statistic], for cancers plus precancerous/suspect conditions vs. controls, cancer vs. precancerous/suspect conditions plus controls, and cancer vs. controls, gave areas under the curve of 0.87, 0.89, and 0.93, respectively (P<0.001). Optimization allowed test sensitivity or specificity to approach 100% with acceptable complementary measures."

    The ROC curve [] has area under it of 1 for a perfect classifier and 0.5 for wild guessing. This is a more useful measurement than the p-value. (E.g. if I look at height vs sex for humans, it won't take too big a sample to get a great p-value for there being a difference, yet classifying people as male/female depending on whether they exceed some height threshold is a very poor diagnostic system.) I don't have much of a feel for how good ROC area of about 0.9 is for a medical test. I'd guess it is good enough to be useful, but you'd not want to rely on that test alone.

    • Re:Link to abstract (Score:5, Interesting)

      by gringer ( 252588 ) on Tuesday July 29, 2014 @02:49AM (#47555519)

      The actual paper is behind a paywall.

      Yay for institute access. Their idea of "approach[ing] 100%" is a little bit loose:

      Based on these calculations, the cutoffs for low (0.10), medium (0.25), and high (0.50) thresholds are 1.47 at a sensitivity of 94.8% and a specificity of 54.7%, 1.73 at a sensitivity of 81% and a specificity of 78.7%, and 1.99 at a sensitivity of 62.1% and a specificity of 94%, respectively

      I have yet to do the calculations using population prevalence, but I'm going to guess that the positive predictive value of these tests are not particularly high.

      • by gringer ( 252588 )

        Right. I finally got around to writing an R function to do this, because this problem has cropped up a few times in the past year:

        getPV <- function(prevalence, sensitivity, specificity){
        popnTrue <- prevalence;
        popnFalse <- (1-prevalence);
        popnTruePos <- popnTrue * sensitivity;
        popnFalsePos <- popnFalse * (1 - specificity);
        popnTrueNeg <- popnTrue * (1

    • > I'd guess it is good enough to be useful, but you'd not want to rely on that test alone.

      Perhaps not, but if this test is cheap and easy it offers something very valuable nonetheless.
      You go to your doctor with some symptoms that seem fairly generic and non-serious, like many cancers do in the early stages. Your doctor knows there are cancers that present that way, he also know there is a much higher chance it's a pulled muscle. Right now he'd most likely recommend going to a physio (this is exactly the

  • Blood samples are already a condition of coverage for some insurance. Now prospective employers have a reason for doing the same. Not that either would ever reject anyone on the grounds that they might have health issues. No, they were rejected because a better candidate was found. Nine months later. Question is, would they alert the applicant of the findings? If they did that and the person didn't know someone might put 2 and 2 together. Can you imagine being told by the HR email robot that you were
  • by whoever57 ( 658626 ) on Tuesday July 29, 2014 @01:31AM (#47555329) Journal

    Like many medical advances, this will likely take years before it is approved for use in the USA. Apart from the FDA being very slow, this would cut into revenues from colonoscopies.

    Even things like better and safe sunscreen are available in other developed countries but not in the USA. Improved treatments for tooth decay took years before approval in the USA.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Good job its a british university, and british company then.........

    • ...and if the FDA approved things quickly, you'd say they were just trying to make more profits for the evil medical companies, after unproven remedies killed people. I don't see any way of viewing the situation positively, it's lose-lose.
  • Soon to be freaking out in front of several governmental bodies: Your HMO

    They will claim the treatment is worse than the cancer. They'll want the feds to recommend that people not take this test because it will "mislead" 9inform) the public and cause them to seek unnecessary (expensive) treatment for a condition that might just go away on its own. Then they'll use the governments recommendations as an excuse to deny people coverage.

    Sound crazy? They already did it! []

    The bigge

    • The reason the federal government is making recommendations for reduced testing is to decrease the cost of care it lays out for Medicare, Medicaid, and PPACA patients. The cost studies prior to the passing of PPACA revealed that not only would the cost of "standard" diagnostic testing add billions/year to the cost of the program, but also that there simply are not enough resources available for everyone over 40 to have an annual mammogram.

      It looks as if the relaxed prostate, mammogram, and colonoscopy recom

  • Soon, health insurance will be like Progressive auto insurance; sure it's cheaper, you just have to plug yourself into this black box, so your rates and coverage can go up and down like a roller coaster car.
  • Don't these people know that those aren't allowed anymore? A proper study is done by massing a large amount of meta-statistics taken from other studies of large amounts of meta-statistics to create an entirely new conclusion based on the new population data.

    Who the hell actually studies the relationships of cause and effect between actual variables in a real experiment anymore?

  • So how far away do they have to send the samples ? Its not going to be very useful if you aren't going to get the results of your cancer test fora couple thousand years
    and then theres the question will your insurance cover it (out of network)

    Still its nice to know that cancer is not just confined to this planet.

Trap full -- please empty.