Early cancer detection is improving.

Pioneering Methods for Early Cancer Detection and Their Impact

Cancer remains a leading cause of death around the globe despite overall mortality rates in the U.S. declining 26 percent between 1991 and 2015, reports the National Cancer Institute (NCI). In 2018, more than 1.7 million people were diagnosed with cancer in the U.S., and 609,640 lost their lives. However, there were more than 15.5 million cancer survivors in America in 2016. Statistics suggest prevention and early cancer detection play an integral role in reducing mortality. In fact, early cancer detection methods are continuously evolving, offering hope to those that are currently going through or may hear the life-changing words of a cancer diagnosis and refining treatment options.

Circulating Tumor DNA Offers Early Detection of Cancers.

The use of circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) stands out among the latest generation early cancer detection methods. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, ctDNA refers to the analysis of blood samples to identify free DNA within the bloodstream indicative of cancer cells. This DNA does not match the individual’s DNA and allows for diagnosing of tumors without a traditional biopsy.

It is important to note this form of cancer detection is vastly different from past tests of circulating tumor cells (CTC). The ctDNA found in the blood is the result of tumor apoptosis, cell death, releasing nucleotide contents into the bloodstream. While it is an effective means of diagnosis, it does have some limitations.

The quantity of ctDNA necessary to diagnose and monitor a tumor is slightly elevated. As a result, it may not be possible to retrieve ctDNA from a person with microscopic tumors in their body. However, its potential remains great.

Using ctDNA, care providers can locate the tumor, identify its genome and design a customized treatment plan. As a result of continuous monitoring of ctDNA levels, the treatment plan can evolve.

For example, decreasing quantities of ctDNA in the blood suggest tumors are shrinking. Meanwhile, increasing levels suggest tumors are increasing in size. Since cancer survival is tied to faster detection and aggressive treatment, using ctDNA will continue to increase in popularity and application, especially for difficult-to-access tumors, such as those in the brain or lungs.

Deep Learning Tools Take a Second Look at Pathology Slides for Cancer Detection.

A key problem with human identification of early cancers in pathological slides exists. The process takes time, and mistakes may occur. As reported by Jessica Kent via Health IT Analytics, researchers at Google have developed a deep learning tool, leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning, that accurately detects 99 percent of breast cancers.

Applications of deep learning in early cancer detection remain in infancy, limited to breast cancers for now. However, researchers are continuing to use deep learning to analyze electronic health records, hospital readmission rates, treatment plans and diagnostic tests to determine cancer risk. In addition, deep learning may help with the development of cancer prediction models, giving care providers an opportunity to simulate how a specific treatment may affect tumors and whether its benefits outweigh the risks.

Another benefit of deep learning for early cancer detection lies in its automated nature. Since the system does not take time away from care providers, it can run automatically while treating oncologists work with patients to understand the emotional and physical toll of cancer treatment. As a result, more people can be screened for cancers without the time and stress of traditional diagnostics.

New Techniques, Including PACT, May Reduce Discomfort with Traditional Cancer Detection Methods.

Approximately one in eight women will develop breast cancer in the U.S., and while mammography remains the most common means of detection, techniques are evolving. In denser breast tissue, a mammogram may not reveal breast cancers. Instead of the lengthy discomfort caused by a mammogram, a new technique, photoacoustic computed tomography (PACT), is attracting attention for its speed and accuracy in detection, reports the National Institutes of Health.

A recent research team at the California Institute of Technology managed to use single-breath-hold PACT to create a high-quality image of breast tissue. In addition, this application gave researchers the ability to detect smaller tumors through measurement of elastographic changes in breast tissue. The entire process lasts one minute. Although trials have not yet started for the use of PACT, it holds the promise of increasing breast cancer detection earlier, reducing mortality and metastasis. 

How Does Fast Cancer Detection Affect the Rate of Screenings?

Faster cancer detection has the potential to improve screening rates. In today’s world, time is everything. People lead busy lives. Reducing the amount of time needed for cancer screening, as well as prevention, will lead to more screenings. Ultimately, people that find out sooner have a higher life expectancy than those that wait; this is the primary benefit of innovative, newer cancer screening tools. However, the benefits of earlier cancer detection are not limited to more people receiving screenings.

Additional Benefits of Early Detection of Cancer.

The benefits of early detection of cancer derive from the primary benefit—more people informed of their current health and risk. These include:

  • Greater opportunity to monitor changes within cancer. Healthcare providers can use the latest tools to monitor cancers for changes as treatment progresses, ensuring treatment works as expected.
  • Faster testing of new treatment measures. As new treatment options become available, the use of new testing capabilities will allow for fast deployment of such treatments, which will save lives.
  • Targeted treatment of cancers based on new diagnostic tools. The use of ctDNA is most promising in the targeted treatment of cancers. Since care providers know the genome of the cancer, they can devise targeted treatment programs. This reduces the likelihood of metastasis and poor treatment outcomes.  
  • Innovative, pre-emptive measures to prevent cancer may be available. Although ctDNA rests on the existence of current tumors, the use of the technology may be applied to look for DNA indicative of future cancer risks. Thus, people with a higher risk may use diagnostics, including PACT and deep learning, to identify lifestyle changes most likely to reduce the risk of future diagnostics.

Choose a Knowledgeable, High-Quality Cancer Treatment Center for Your Care

Early cancer detection has changed the narrative around cancer care. While the disease was once considered a terminal illness, current and up and coming detection methods have given researchers an opportunity to find cancer when it can be stopped. Fortunately, cancer in early stages can be cured, and with current and future tools such as ctDNA, deep learning and PACT imaging, healthcare providers will continue to fight for life. If you have a higher risk of cancer, it may be worth a visit to see a specialist and find out whether one of the newer means of cancer detection can reduce your risk. In addition, if you have been diagnosed with cancer, you need a high-quality team that understands the latest methods and treatment best practices for enhancing your chances of survival.Southeast Radiation Oncology Group, P.A., has the experience and skilled providers that work to defeat cancer around the clock. Submit your queries online, excluding personal health information (PHI), or call us today.