Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from BMC Cancer and BioMed Central.

Open Access Commentary

Improved blood tests for cancer screening: general or specific?

Ian A Cree

Author Affiliations

Translational Oncology Research Centre, Queen Alexandra Hospital, Southwick Hill, Portsmouth, PO6 3LY, UK

BMC Cancer 2011, 11:499  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-11-499

Published: 30 November 2011

Abstract

Diagnosis of cancer at an early stage leads to improved survival. However, most current blood tests detect single biomarkers that are of limited suitability for screening, and existing screening programmes look only for cancers of one particular type. A new approach is needed. Recent developments suggest the possibility of blood-based screening for multiple tumour types. It may be feasible to develop a high-sensitivity general screen for cancer using multiple proteins and nucleic acids present in the blood of cancer patients, based on the biological characteristics of cancer. Positive samples in the general screen would be submitted automatically for secondary screening using tests to help define the likelihood of cancer and provide some indication of its type. Only those at high risk would be referred for further clinical assessment to permit early treatment and mitigate potential overdiagnosis. While the assays required for each step exist, they have not been used in this way. Recent experience of screening for breast, cervical and ovarian cancers suggest that there is likely to be widespread acceptance of such a strategy.