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Blood test could detect cancer early

Australian scientists at the Walter and Eliza Hill Institute are among a team of researchers who have developed a blood test that detects cancers before symptoms appear.

The test is yet to hit the market, but AMA president Dr Michael Gannon has labelled the recent technology a “holy grail” for nursing.

“We've got tests a bit like this for a small number of cancers, but when you see that this test potentially can pick up something like pancreatic cancer – which classically presents at an advanced stage, sometimes when patients have only months to live – this is potentially very exciting,” he said.

“In Australia we're very lucky; we've got two absolutely world-leading screening programs that detect cancers at an early stage: one of them is the latest incarnation of the pap smear, for detection of cancer of the cervix; and the other one is the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program.

“Now, the only reason the government goes to the massive, multimillion dollar expense with those tests is that they're worth it at population level, and it's exciting to think that this blood test might join that suite of tests.”

Gannon said he had high hopes the test would have an elevated level of accuracy for screening cancers, but it would still be subjected to second and third phase trials in Australia and overseas.

“What we've got to do is when we do have a test, make sure that it reaches every corner of the population,” he said.

“I would love to see the same emphasis on cancer prevention that we have on cancer screening or cancer treatment.

“We, in this country, every year, spend billions of dollars on treatment of cancer and sadly, there is still billions of dollars of money lost in premature death due to cancer. We need to spend the time talking about prevention of these various different cancers.”

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