Cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the United States today. Experts are trying their best to come up with ways to detect and prevent cancer early on, and now they have one breakthrough method.
CBS news reports on the new information.
New research shows that cancer can actually be predicted years in advance from certain changes that occur in a person’s blood. Researchers are saying that only a simple blood test is required to show this.
In a new study from Northwestern Medicine in conjunction with Harvard University, scientists detected a specific pattern in the changing lengths of telomeres. Telomeres are the protective end caps on peoples’ strands of DNA, which may behave as a biomarker to predict cancer years before it actually matures.
Dr. Lifang Hou, was the lead study author and a professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. He made a statement about the findings saying,
“Understanding this pattern of telomere growth may mean it can be a predictive biomarker for cancer. Because we saw a strong relationship in the pattern across a wide variety of cancers, with the right testing these procedures could be used to eventually diagnose a wide variety of cancers.”
Scientists have been trying to understand the relationship between telomeres for decades now. They are considered a marker of biological age, and cancer progression.
For this study researchers looked at the measurements of telomeres in almost eight hundred people over the course of thirteen years. Out of these participants, around 135 were eventually diagnosed with different forms of cancers, including prostate, skin, lung, leukemia and a few more.
Originally, experts found that telomeres aged more quickly, implied by a more vigorous loss of length, in the individuals who were developing cancer. In these participants, the telomeres appeared as much as fifteen years older than those who were not getting cancer.
“The study also found that the accelerated aging of the telomeres stopped three to four years before the individuals were diagnosed with cancer,” according to CBS news.
Experts are calling this the first study to explore telomere length at more than one point in time prior to cancer diagnosis. Cancer treatment might actually truncate telomeres so it is uncertain how their length is affected by cancer itself or the treatment plan.
Doctors involved with this research and the study of oncology say this is likely why previous studies have been so inconsistent. Dr. Hou said, “We saw the inflection point at which rapid telomere shortening stabilizes. We found cancer has hijacked the telomere shortening in order to flourish in the body.”
Dr. Hou also found that when experts can figure out precisely how cancer takes over the cell, they can hopefully work to develop treatments that could make cancer cells self-destruct without being detrimental to healthy cells in a person’s body. This would help people stay strong and feel less fatigued and weak during cancer treatment.