Blood, Urine Test May Detect Cancer
March 16, 2000 (Atlanta) -- Forget scalpels and needles: A new test to
detect cancer would require only a few drops of blood or perhaps urine. The
test, still in the early stages of development, would be based on unexpected
new findings published in the March 17 issue of the journal Science.
Studies already are planned to see whether the test accurately predicts
cancer. If it does, they could be available to physicians very soon. "We
are enthusiastic," study author David Sidransky, MD, tells WebMD.
Because a cell's genetic machinery goes haywire when it becomes cancerous,
most researchers trying to unlock the secrets of cancer are looking at the very
center of the tumor cell -- the nucleus -- where the cell's genetic material is
found. Sidransky's team at Johns Hopkins University looked somewhere else: at
the mysterious energy-producing particles within the cell, known as
Previous studies have shown that certain particles in the mitochondria of
tumor cells have been altered or mutated. Sidransky's team found that tumor
cells release these altered particles, called mtDNA, and release them in large
amounts in bladder, head/neck, and lung tumors. The mtDNA could be detected in
the blood or urine indicating bladder, head/neck, or lung cancer.
The most accurate way to test for cancer would be for people to have their
mtDNA analyzed while they are still healthy, at age 40 or 45. Routine, annual
tests then could quickly detect mtDNA.
"The test would probably work for any [cancer], possibly even
lymphomas," says Sidransky, who is a professor at Johns Hopkins University
School of Medicine. "But the biggest problems -- breast, lung, colon,
prostate cancer -- those are the ones we hope this test might be useful
A mitochondria expert Michael D. Brown, PhD, tells WebMD that the mtDNA test
still has a major hurdle to overcome: It not only must detect mtDNA associated
with cancer, but it must be able to show that when it does detect mtDNA
mutations it means the patient has cancer and not some other problem. But
Brown, a researcher in the Emory University Center for Molecular Medicine, says
that the technology needed to create an mtDNA test already is available.
"If it were shown [the mtDNA tests] were specific to cancer and
consistently found it, and [showed] which types of cancer and at which stage,
the test would be very useful," Brown says.
Sidransky says, "It should take 6-12 months to get the technology [of
the test] done, then we'll be doing definitive studies [in patients]. Once you
get the technology going, maybe in two or three years you can get [the test]
into the general population."
- Researchers think they may be able to develop tests for cancer that would
require only a few drops of blood or possibly urine.
- In a study looking at tumor cells, researchers found large amounts of
genetic mutations in the mitochondria, or energy-producing particles of the
- The technology needed to create a test for mtDNA already exists, so if the
technique really works, it could be available within a few years.