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Scientists Can Now Identify Cancer with Just One Drop of Blood

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Cancer is the number two killer in the U.S., but our ability to detect if someone is suffering is pretty limited. If you go to your doctor exhibiting symptoms (like these Top Warning Signs to Ask Your Doctor About), their only options are for you to perform a self-examination or for them to order blood tests, biopsies, and urine analyses—none of which can say for certain that your symptoms are actually due to a cancerous tumor. At least, those are the only options right now. As for the future, Dutch researchers may have just revolutionized our ability to detect the deadly disease: Researchers from the Cancer Center Amsterdam (CCA) discovered a way to detect almost any type of cancer with 96 percent accuracy, even in the earliest stages. And all it takes is a single drop of the patient's blood.

Researchers studied one thousand diagnosed patients and, from just a pin-prick of blood, could glean not just the type of cancer but where the tumor originated and whether or not it had metastasized into other parts of the body. The scientists discovered that, in addition to helping healthy blood clots form to stop bleeding, blood platelets play a role in tumor growth and sprawl. Turns out, the platelets of cancer patients contain unique RNA-patterns (or copies of DNA parts) that make it possible to distinguish between healthy individuals and those afflicted by cancer. 

Needless to say, this is a revolutionary breakthrough. For starters, patients have a greater chance of surviving if they spot the cancer early, points out Tom Würdinger, research leader at the CCA. Plus, the test lowers treatment costs because early stage cancerous cells are much easier to defeat. (And Knowing About Your Cancer Doubles Your Rate of Surviving It.)

Researchers from the University of Copenhagen discovered that a New Blood Test May Predict Breast Cancer earlier this year, but the most recent innovation out of Amsterdam is the first to identify multiple types of the disease. The Dutch scientists did point out that the test was more reliable for certain types of cancer than others, like intestinal cancer, which was very easy to detect, compared to the more difficult to discern brain cancer (about 85 percent accurate). The researchers believe that this difference is because of the blood-brain barrier, which keeps certain—possibly dangerous—substances out of the brain. The indicators of brain cancer may not be able to get through and back into the bloodstream and, therefore, don't show up in the testing.

So when will this life-saving test be available? It's still unclear, but there's been talk that a market-ready version may be available for doctors as soon as 2020. In the meantime, early detection is still key. It's important to keep those good-for-you habits going and be mindful of any changes in the way you and your body are feeling. (And avoid these 4 Bad Habits That May Cut 10 Years Off Your Life.)


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