A blood test can detect cancer within just 10 minutes, scientists have found, raising hopes that hard-to-spot diseases could be picked up early when treatment is most effective.
Currently doctors use symptoms and a raft of tests and biopsies to determine if cancer is present which can sometimes take months.
The new method from the University of Queensland looks for differences in the genetic code of cancerous and healthy cells.
The team found that the DNA of cancer cells sticks strongly to nanoparticles of gold giving a quick indication whether disease is present or not to the naked eye.
And because the same changes occur in all cancerous cells, the test should work on all cancer types, the team believes.
Writing in the journal Nature Communications Dr Matt Trau, Professor of Chemistry, said: “Our approach enabled non-invasive cancer detection, i.e a blood test, in 10 min from plasma derived DNA samples with excellent specificity.
“We believe that this simple approach would potentially be a better alternative to the current techniques for cancer detection.”
Although currently the test cannot determine where the cancer is, or how advanced it might be, it could give doctors an early warning that disease is present so they can carry out more detailed tests.
For cancers like pancreatic and ovarian which have few warning signs, it could mean the disease is picked up before it has spread, and while there is still time for surgery and drugs to be effective.
Dr Ged Brady, from the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute, said: “This approach represents an exciting step forward in detecting tumour DNA in blood samples and opens up the possibility of a generalised blood-based test to detect cancer.
“Further clinical studies are required to evaluate the full clinic potential of the method.”
The method was tested used tissue and blood samples from patients with different kinds of cancer which was compared to 31 healthy individuals.
Researchers now want to carry out further testing with a larger number of samples, are are hopeful that the method could be refined to distinguish the stage of the cancer.
Commenting on the study Paul Pharoah, Professor of Cancer Epidemiology at the University of Cambridge, said: “The test is promising, but it really needs to be applied from some carefully collected and characterised samples in order to be able to judge its potential usefulness as a diagnostic test.
“As it stands it is just one more technological innovation that may or may not be useful in the clinical setting.”