Proteins in blood could provide early cancer warning 'by more than seven years'

359 points by racional on 2024-05-15 | 132 comments

Automated Summary

A study by the University of Oxford, funded by Cancer Research UK, has discovered that proteins in the blood could potentially indicate cancer up to seven years before diagnosis. The researchers analyzed blood samples from over 44,000 individuals, comparing those who later developed cancer to those who did not. They identified 618 proteins linked to 19 types of cancer, including colon, lung, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and liver. Further research is needed to determine if these proteins can be used for early detection and treatment. Additionally, a related study found 40 proteins that influence the risk of getting nine types of cancer, though altering these proteins might have unintended consequences.


zero-sharp on 2024-05-15

The video makes the case that the early detection of cancers isn't always a good thing. See 6:30 and 7:00 for specific references to scientific studies. Some cancers (thyroid and skin) can be detected at a much higher rate, but the associated mortality remains constant (we are detecting benign cancers).

To be clear: obviously this is dependent on the cancer. Really my point is that we need studies that show that the screening improves outcomes.

brnt on 2024-05-15

This is how Dutch public healthcare motivates its general aversion to medical testing, as many a foreigner finds surprising and incongruent to the generally OK level of healthcare outcomes provided by the system. You can test and detect, but the error margins are often large (so many false positives and/or false negatives), would generate way too much workload to follow up and thereby cost time and money for better leads. Plus, as you say, knowing early doesn't always or even often mean you can actually change the outcomes.

Now, this is what they say... I have tried to find the actual literature they use to motivate their protocols, and apart from occasionally, have not been able to find that evidence. I'd love to have a resource that demonstrates these sorts of things.

mort96 on 2024-05-15

It's not just about keeping costs down, but also about increasing quality of life. If you detect a benign cancer in someone, and they then go on to receive chemotherapy, you've massively decreased that person's quality of life for a significant period with no upside.

iknowstuff on 2024-05-15

A benign tumor doesn’t spread and doesn’t warrant chemotherapy I believe? And if it’s actually cancer than I don’t understand how you would not want it gone as soon as possible to avoid metastasis?

canes123456 on 2024-05-15

It’s more complex than this. There is a pretty narrow sweet spot where early detection actually helps.

If the cancer is very fast growing, it could be too fast for treatment to help at all. Even if treatment helps there likely not a very long period of time before you develop symptoms that would have lead to treatment regardless.

If it is very slow growing, you might outlive the cancer and it doesn’t require treatment. It is effectively but not actually a benign tumor.

You also have to deal with false negative and positives, that could be an order of magnitude higher than the Goldilocks true postives that earlier detection actually made a difference. It’s easy to see how population results will not show much of a benefit.

jajko on 2024-05-15

Probably the most famous slow growing tumor is prostate cancer. As per my friend who is urology surgeon, basically all men eventually catch it, unless they die young. But it goes so slowly and symptoms are rather mild in most cases no invasive treatment is done.

Fire-Dragon-DoL on 2024-05-15

Well, this is talking specifically about the case where the cancer is benign. Of course you want a metastatic one gone.

For the benign ones, that's going to hurt the person's body quite a bit

jvanderbot on 2024-05-15

I think the jump from "protein blood test" to "Chemotherapy" is a bit of a stretch. There are almost surely additional screenings and diagnoses going on there. And I don't think anyone is going into chemo for benign tumors.

Fire-Dragon-DoL on 2024-05-15

Makes sense. Is it possible for the two types of cancer to be confused?

Should also point out that tests will negatively affect your life seriously either way, especially if these benign cancers are common. Think of the time spent going to/from the doctor, the incredible stress (am I dying?), the tests itself: it is damaging the person's life. Detection is good, false positives are unacceptable though.

jvanderbot on 2024-05-15

I recently read Outlive, and he makes the claim that almost all of the increase in survivability for cancer comes from early detection. I think projects like this are extrapolating that out. I think a little heartache and worry is excusable if it means 10 years added to your life. Over time, we'll develop a callous there and take it in stride.


My two friends who got early screening had a few false positives, and one true positive treated early. One later died of heart attack and one lived long enough to get dementia.

My two friends who didn't get early screening, one died of heart attack and one died of cancer that could have been caught. Both died earlier than two above.

Sadly, at this point, you want to die of cancer, but you want to do it when you're 85. It beats a sudden heart attack and it beats dementia. You just want to prolong the outcome.

steveBK123 on 2024-05-16


I don't know any "did early detection which lead to unnecessary chemo" stories..

I know people who died due to the lack of early detection.

I also know people who survived due to accidental pre-symptomatic detection because of unrelated ER scans where they'd have been in stage 4 before having any symptoms.

So more screenings for more types of cancer are absolutely needed. It's more treatable early, and you will have better outcomes.

Patients might worry about lab results is not a good reason not to have early detection. Patients can self select if they are so sensitive.

vidarh on 2024-05-16

How would you distinguish a necessary and unnecessary chemo after the fact?

Nobody would give chemo if the tumor is known to benign, after all.

An unnecessary chemo will be one where they couldn't tell, and the chemo ensures they wont tell.

The only way you'll know is from aggregate mortality statistics not budging.

The other aspect is that even if a tumour isn't, earlier detection is often not reducing mortality any more once you get to a decent baseline.

The evidence often does not support early screening in general. Early screening for specific subsets of the population have better results, but are also not unambiguously helpful.

wrycoder on 2024-05-16

Typically, you biopsy the tumor to determine appropriate treatment.

vidarh on 2024-05-17

And that is 1) not risk free - though it's low risk, have too many false positives, and you do more harm than you prevent, 2) do enough biopsies and you will still get false positives.

robocat on 2024-05-15

> [costs:] the incredible stress

I have seen a few people get benefits from a cancer scare: a refocus onto what matters in their lives. Agree: I would guess most people just get costs. Of my middle-aged friends with health scares only a few addressed the underlying cause (and even fewer are proactively avoiding health issues).

IG_Semmelweiss on 2024-05-16

i think you are severely underestimating the human species bias for action

once the train leaves the station theres a lot of steam to go in 1 direction only

dukeofdoom on 2024-05-15

Prostate cancer. Lots of nerve endings there. The procedure to remove it can lead you to be incontinent. Let's say you treat the cancer but get damaged by the procedure and can't be as active. Your seditary life style leads to a blood clot and an early death the end you may have lowered your life expectancy as prostate cancer is slow growing

vharuck on 2024-05-15

Prostate cancer also came to my mind first. Doctors generally stop screening for prostate cancer after a certain age (70 and older is the recommended cutoff from the US Preventative Services Task Force), because, if the cancer wasn't causing symptoms, it's unlikely to impact quality of life or cause death before something else.

The USPSTF references a lot of meta-analyses dealing with screening outcomes. They make decisions by whether a specific screening practice decreases mortality rates. They explicitly don't even include the financial cost of a screening practice.

IG_Semmelweiss on 2024-05-16

yet, many a malignant tumor may not metastize until you are 90 and dead from other causes, either

whimsicalism on 2024-05-15

the scenario you're describing would never happen, you don't prescribe chemo based on a blood test of protein markers

dukeofdoom on 2024-05-15

My nurse friend said she only discharged 2 people after chemo in about 7 years of service. People have a misguided notion about the odds of survinvg a deadly cancer. They also found the diagnostic procedures for breast cancer was causing the cancer.

arcticbull on 2024-05-15

> They also found the diagnostic procedures for breast cancer was causing the cancer.

I assume you're referring to mammograms. You do get exposed to a significant amount of ionizing radiation in mammography, about 0.4mSv, about 40% of the EPA's annual radiation limit for a member of the public.

That's one of the very good reasons why guidance is women wait until age 45 to get annual screenings and switch to biennial at 55.

At that point the rewards outweigh the risks.

fidotron on 2024-05-15

I am not sure that is unique to the Dutch, it is the line I have heard in several countries.

Heavy agreement on your last part - if there is substantial evidence to back this up I would like to see it.

As it stands I personally prefer the idea of constant mass testing in order that we learn as much as possible as quickly as possible, including improving the tests from the resulting feedback loop.

brnt on 2024-05-15

When I see the prices of some of that testing, I know that that cannot be the reason, and indeed, establishing personal baselines by regular testing can only be helpful. The aversion to it grounded on taking some average patient, I am convinced.

I really wish there was more transparency, because test aversion is exactly the same protocol you'd invent if you were trying to save money. I want to be able to see which of the two we're dealing with.

radicalbyte on 2024-05-15

Given how the Dutch system seems to be designed to maximise paper filling and busywork instead of healthcare - and of course to make the insurance companies rich - it's no surprise that they're against it.

Medical experts here have very little say in how things are run. It's all bankers and bureaucrats.

brnt on 2024-05-15

Do you have any sources for that?

I've worked for a hospital and I've never been able to find anything approaching a complete balance sheet. Financing it utterly opaque, but I'd love to have something solid before I accuse anyone.

6510 on 2024-05-15

I'm far from an expert on this topic, more on the contrary.

The surgeons use to run the hospital. In contrast with mba's they knew things. I don't know what the difference is precisely but I hear the ziekenfonds use to have people to divide money over treatments (set prices) without their salary depending on their choices.

I don't know about the scale but longer ago we would just build hospital buildings and house a workforce of nuns nearby who had their own garden. Now we some how cant afford to put down a building and with realestate prices on the rise the salaries need to follow. We might not like the factory village concept but if you have to be on call all of the time it seems fkn convenient to me. Cut the salary and give the employees a house, seems a great perk.

Employee shortage is also costing a fortune.

We've created ambitious labor protection laws then we created a loop hole where all you have to do is pay 190% of the salary to a job agencies (uitzendbureu) and no laws apply, anything goes. If you don't like it you can go home. This didn't need to cost 90% of the salary. Unless our labor taxes are now that complicated(?) but that doesn't work as an excuse either.

Our taxes not paying for education doesn't mean we don't have to pay for it eventually (+interest)

I read they are also lacking the money to streamline the processes.

pessimizer on 2024-05-15

The reason this rings wrong for people is because the reasons early testing is dangerous are entirely social. People are motivated by fear to have every test available, doctors are motivated by fear of being accused of neglect by the patient, doctors are also motivated by the profit that they make from the tests, the manufacturers and patent-holders of tests are motivated to have them done as much as possible, the labs that do tests make money on the number of tests that are done, the nonprofits that campaign based on diseases are expected to message to increase testing for those diseases and accept money from manufacturers and patent-holders, there's motivation to exaggerate the danger of what's detected by the manufacturers and patent-holders of treatments for the disease, and there's motivation by researchers who formulate the criteria for determining whether a particular feature of something detected is potentially dangerous/deserves treatment, and a motivation to give them the most expensive treatment, regardless of whether that treatment is unpleasant; in fact if the treatment is dangerous, it opens up secondary markets.

There's just an enormous number of tailwinds pushing overdetection and overtreatment. The sum of that is what's important, which is that when you test earlier, you often objectively end up with more death and suffering. Which is what a state-run national healthcare systems needs to look at, they can't get lost in the trees. You pick an optimum age for testing that shifts the balance to less suffering and death (and costs), and you look for specific exceptions (genetic, lifestyle, comorbidities) and test just those people early.

Could there be a way in which all testing would help instead of hurt? Yes, but it's political and psychological and not likely to ever happen. You'd have to (as a patient) trust probability in general, and additionally you'd have to trust the probabilities that they're handing you haven't been distorted by the self-interest of others. Not likely for the foreseeable future; maybe 1000 years from now.

If you want to do the study, all you have to do is compare the number of deaths from a thing when people are tested early to the number of deaths when people are tested late. Or just look for other people who have done them. If early testing obviously saved lives, the people who sell testing would tout them everywhere. Instead, they're stuck trying to look for angles to argue that lessening death and suffering isn't the biggest consideration. They recently did this to push breast cancer screening earlier again, by arguing that if you specifically look at black American women, they benefit from early cancer screening. So overall, breast cancer deaths go up, but that's just your privilege talking. Woke conglomerates. Ignore that black people have a unique, neglected, discriminated against, and poverty-ridden situation in the US; in fact, it might even be racist to point that out (in backwards land.)

Of course, you definitely don't have to do the studies, plenty have been done. Anybody saying that they've looked and haven't found them has not looked or has seen them and is not telling the truth. Both positive and negative, about every test. The studies that support earlier and more testing are press released and marketed, though, while the others can be suppressed or simply ignored, unless some public health system or insurance company champions them, and of course they would.

brnt on 2024-05-15

I fully agree.

However, the converse is also true: we don't actually know which protocols are there because they're social, and which are there to benefit the insurers. Both could motivate cost cutting.

I want to see the difference. I want whatever the full story is laid out in front of me.

refurb on 2024-05-16

The evidence is out there in published papers that do health economic analyses of various interventions.

On a population based level it makes perfect sense to not do things even if it could save lives.

This is exactly what NICE does in the UK. If it costs more than 30,000 GBP to give one person one more full quality year of life, then it’s not worth it.

vidarh on 2024-05-16

To the point about NICE, it's worth pointing out that this is 1) not how NICE decides. Average cost per QALY being below the preferred level is one factor. Analysis of treatments they approve suggests the "actual" threshold is closer to 45k.

2) These are averages per treatment or protocol and in most areas the NHS spends less than the threshold by simply delivering based on clinical assessment of benefits, and so the threshold is limiting treatment mainly on the fringes where you find a few very expensive treatments with marginal benefits with no cheaper alternative.

In practice NICEs threshold is what any insurer would do: You know how much money there is in the system and try to maximise health output with what is available to you.

refurb on 2024-05-16

In practice NICEs threshold is what any insurer would do

This is what makes Americans getting upset their insurance rejects coverage for medicines so ironic.

Single payer systems do the exact same thing. The difference is in the UK is the option is just isn’t brought up in the first place because the doctor already knows it’s not paid for.

vidarh on 2024-05-16

Even then, they'll happily bring it up if you mention you're fine with private referrals or recommendations for something that isn't covered. Almost all single-payer systems are single-payer only in the sense that everyone is covered by the public system, but without preventing people from going outside it. A very few - Norway used to - strictly limits what you can go outside the system for. In the UK about 10% have private insurance on top.

refurb on 2024-05-16

Right. So if you have the $$$

vidarh on 2024-05-17

Typical insurance costs in the UK are extremely low compared to the US though. Most health insurance is "top up" based, in the sense that it covers things the NHS doesn't do well enough, like shorter waiting lists for some elective procedures.

The average cost of private health insurance in the UK is ~$114/month.

refurb on 2024-05-18

Of course it’s cheaper it covers much less.

The US insurance pays for everything. UK insurance layers on top of the public system.

Plus UK insurance excludes pre-existing conditions.

In the US you can get diagnosed with cancer and then buy insurance to pay for it.

leto_ii on 2024-05-15

> would generate way too much workload to follow up and thereby cost time and money for better leads

Having lived a decade in NL, my impression was that keeping costs down is the top priority. Unless you have a serious chronic condition or were in an accident, good luck getting somebody to take a look at you.

(irl, after a while you learn to push, exaggerate symptoms etc. or just go back home to get tests and treatment).

brnt on 2024-05-15

Yep, the loudest people get the most help. There's no good solution for that other than to become a bitchy 'client'. It's unfortunate that despite the promises, you still have to 'use it correctly' if you want those good outcomes as a patient.

Wowfunhappy on 2024-05-15

I can't watch a video at work but I have seen this argument before.

I just find it fundamentally hard to believe that having more data is a bad thing. What we choose to do with that data is a different story, and the actual source of these bad outcomes.

cityofdelusion on 2024-05-15

Data isn’t necessarily good because medicine and biology are messy and inaccurate. I just went through a scare myself with elevated markers on a typical blood panel. Lots of fuss, anxiety, and cost for zero gain. At the end, I learned that human bodies vary so much that we’re was just no way to know upfront if a finding was a concern or if my body was just on a tail end of a bell curve. Turns out, if you fully scan people, we all have lumps, bumps, and various anomalies. How much do you spend “treating” and investigating this stuff? I wasted my own time and precious time with doctors for nothing, increasing costs to society as a whole.

That kind of data, the costs, we have tons of. That’s why pretty much every medical association regardless of culture has limits on recommended screenings.

m463 on 2024-05-16

I think the same thing.

That said, I think engineers seem to believe other careers should use logic in a straightforward fashion, but they are more complicated.

For example, lawyers cannot use logic in the same way, because the court can almost arbitrarily say some facts must be ignored.

In the same way, medicine has the hippocratic oath. It is "do no harm". It is not "find the cause" or "cure the patient".

It seems doctors have made their peace with this and are aligned with it, since the overwhelming majority 88% have do-not-resuscitate orders for themselves.

mort96 on 2024-05-15

Are you prepared to make the decision, "I have cancer but statistically it has a relatively low likelihood of killing me before I would die of other causes, so I won't do anything about it"?

Are most people?

ggm on 2024-05-15

If you're male and live to over 60, you are going to be in this camp regarding the PSA and intervention for Prostate Cancer. Two GPs, a Urologist and an Epidemiologist (none of whom know each other btw) have all said to me "you will die with this not of this" because they can trace the dynamics of my presentation.

Enhanced imaging and blood tests alone didn't do this: their intuition based on progression and behaviour of the system as a whole did.

Treat the person, have a longterm relationship with your health provider.

nick__m on 2024-05-15

There is a spectrum between invasive treatment and not doing anything.

You could have a scan 3 months later and if there is no progression the doctor schedule a scan 6 months later and then 12 months... If there is a progression he schedule an appointmentwith an oncologist.

vidarh on 2024-05-16

The problem is that once the odds of benefiting from early detection is low enough, and the rate of a given condition is low enough, it takes very little for other things to dominate.

E.g. how many of them end up leading to unnecessary biopsies, or scans that are themselves introducing a risk?

For any condition there will be a threshold where too much screening becomes harmful because you're doing so many unnecessary tests that rare errors / accidents come to dominate the benefits.

The question isn't if there's a threshold where more scans do more harm than good, but where it is.

For some things, increased screening will be unambiguously good. For some it takes work to figure it out.

thimkerbell on 2024-05-15

It might provide enough impetus for getting you to avoid sugar and processed meats though.

mort96 on 2024-05-15

Has avoiding those things been shown to stop existing cancer? I thought those foods just increased the chance of getting cancer in the first place. But I'm totally ignorant here, it sounds plausible that some carcinogens work by worsening cancer which would otherwise have been benign, I just haven't heard about that

stubish on 2024-05-15

Depending on the type of cancer, there are correlations with diet changes and slowing growth of cancer. Causation isn't known yet, with the speculations about reasons veganism works I've seen all refuted. Low carb effects seems about increasing ketones and reducing glucose levels in the blood, which I think is being studied with some lung cancers. Type of cancer is important, with different diet changes positively correlated different with cancers not returning (and the wrong change could possibly even promote growth, as different cancers 'feed' on different things). Prostate, breast and lung cancer I'm aware of there being these correlations.

canes123456 on 2024-05-15

If your are choosing not to do anything based on the data, gathering the data is objectively a net negative. There are financial costs related to taking the tests as well as emotion costs related to false positives and even with deciding not to act with possibly true positives.

There needs to be a net positive action on a subset of the cases to outweigh the costs of gathering and sharing the data.

brnt on 2024-05-15

Most data is crap, and you generally can't tell where the needle in the haystack is.

Having more consistency between doctors would already be a change needed to actually use data. You will find it matters more than you'd like. We can't all have the best doctors, but we could use data to level the outcomes.

Spooky23 on 2024-05-15

It’s a risk assessment like any other. Probability/impact.

My wife ultimately lost her life to metastatic melanoma, which was believed to be in remission. Had there been a way to detect the proteins associated with the mets that developed ahead of symptoms, the odds are she we be alive and thriving.

In other scenarios, say most prostate cancers, early knowledge has low or negative benefits.

epistasis on 2024-05-15

This is not about early detection in general, but rather a specific test of dubious utility, specifically full-body MRI, which often leads to tons of follow-on tests and invasive procedures that may have zero benefit.

For a test with high enough specificity and sensitivity for early detection, it's likely that it would be quickly adopted, and then studied to show that it actually improves outcomes without undue cost (not merely dollar cost but also health cost) to people in terms of treatment and its side effects.

zero-sharp on 2024-05-15

They specifically talk about using the fully body MRI for the purpose of detecting cancers. I'm not sure how you missed that. You literally had to watch 10 seconds of the clip.

It's interesting because they explicitly talk about follow up testing (@2:10) which is to say that multiple methods are used if the MRI indicates a problem. So yes, the initial MRI may produce a misdiagnosis and that is a defect of the test. But the commentary in the video obviously suggests that additional testing for early detection is done. That's partly a problem as you pointed out, but then it clearly also indicates the scope of the conversation is more broad.

ceejayoz on 2024-05-15

They didn't miss it at all.

You've misunderstood the comment's point, which is "just because prospective full-body MRI is bad doesn't mean all diagnostics are".

zero-sharp on 2024-05-15

It's true that some of the commentary is specific to the full body MRI itself (such as misdiagnosis due to an imaging artifact), however many of the claims in the video are very general. And the scientific study they referenced at 6:30 has nothing to do with fully body MRIs. The study is in regards to thyroid cancer overdiagnosis due to screening (using ultrasound and not MRI). This is clearly a statement regarding the effectiveness of screening. And, yes, it is specific to the cancer.

I'm not saying anything that the studies aren't saying. For some kinds of cancers and for some kinds of screening methods, screening can result in overdiagnosis.

ceejayoz on 2024-05-15

OK, so you had to watch a little more than ten seconds.

There's no doubt that some diagnostic tests - like getting a full-body MRI as a precaution - may do more harm than good. Your apparent mistake is thinking that means all diagnostic tests probaby do.

We'll have to figure out which one this is; it's a start of that process. We've demonstrated we can do it; now we have to figure out if we can distinguish between "big bad scary" cancer and "whatever it won't kill you" cancer.

epistasis on 2024-05-15

At 6:30 it's about a specific test for thyroid cancer, which as discussed in my second paragraph, was not found to actually improve outcomes for that specific type of cancer, not cancer in general.

However, early detection is responsible for greatly improving outcomes in many specific cancers. Full body MRI is not the test to achieve that. GRAIL's gallery test might be one to do it for many classes of cancer, but that still remains to be fully seen.

The general of idea of early detection is still an extremely promising one for most types of cancer, and in particular for some of the deadliest, like ovarian and pancreatic cancer.

blindriver on 2024-05-16

How are we supposed to increase outcomes if we don't have the screenings?

Sure maybe the first few years the outcomes may not change, but what about 20 years from now, when a generation of scientists can detect cancer years earlier?

The defeatist attitude of "well it doesn't fix anything right now" is really strange. Once we have reliable detection, it means we can find reliable treatment as well.

LeafItAlone on 2024-05-16

Yes, I agree, but it also could lead to over treatment. If you detect and treat cancer that otherwise never would have caused problems, it was all for naught. Cancer rates found in autopsies for other causes of death are probably higher than you think.

blindriver on 2024-05-16

You can fix overtreatment but you need early detection first.

fumeux_fume on 2024-05-16

Do you mean improve outcomes? Assuming that’s what you mean, improvement of outcomes for cancer patients seems more reliant on proper treatment rather than detection.

blindriver on 2024-05-16

That’s right now, because we don’t have early treatment options. Once we can early detect I bet improved outcomes will increase as we develop new ways to fight them.

JackeJR on 2024-05-16

The screening target should be for malignant cancers, not all cancers.

siliconc0w on 2024-05-15

The problem with this is that they haven't done the long term studies (which they admit). They also don't consider that once these are cheap and regular enough you get the change over time which should get you a lot less false in positives.

Fire-Dragon-DoL on 2024-05-15

I don't understand how we don't consider benign cancers false positives? Acting against those cause serious damage to the body for no gain

IG_Semmelweiss on 2024-05-16

I think Vinay Prasad (MD) has an excellent book or paper on this topic as well. Here is a discussion about it.

It really gave me a new perspective on diagnostic testing.

xpe on 2024-05-16

> we need studies that show that the screening improves outcomes.

I would be wary of a study conflating screening with outcomes — that is unnecessarily coupling too many factors. [1]

The screening isn’t an intervention, so why would it make sense to study its effects on an outcome? Those effects are indirect, mediated by the causal factors of the choice of treatment.

Am I missing something?

Perhaps you are looking for psychological effects of getting an early test?

[1] Treatment outcomes depend on the current state of technology and the practice of medicine.

vidarh on 2024-05-16

Because screening leads to interventions when it is the data used for deciding whether to do an intervention.

If a screening procedure leads only to interventions that would be made in time anyway, it doesn't provide a benefit.

If it leads to extra interventions and no drop in mortality, it may be a net negative.

E.g irradiate enough people to find more cancers and not improve outcomes, and some of your screening may lead to cancers.

mensetmanusman on 2024-05-15

The more data the better though. We need to train the models to understand what is worth doing over time.

tombert on 2024-05-15

This is cool, though I do wonder if the tests will be good enough to differentiate between “cancers that will be lethal in the next seven years” and “cancers that are technically there but will take so long to kill you that something else will beforehand anyway”.

two_handfuls on 2024-05-15

Also “cancers that your body takes care of on its own”

tracker1 on 2024-05-16

Quarterly fasts ftw.

Jedd on 2024-05-15

> .. though I do wonder if the tests will be good enough ..

Sure .. but ..

a) knowing that cancer is there, but you may get hit by a bus before it kills you, can still inform some medical care decisions

b) the 12 authors of that paper have probably put a bit of thought into the usefulness and efficacy of this kind of very early detection, and concluded it was worth reporting on their research

tombert on 2024-05-15

I don't dispute either of your points. It was a genuine mere curiosity on my end, not a rhetorical "gotcha!".

I've just heard that for stuff like prostate cancer, a diagnosis can be misleading, because sometimes it can take 20+ years to kill you. If you get it when you're 70, it's probably not worth going through surgery or chemo because you'll likely die of heart disease or another cancer before that anyway.

thfuran on 2024-05-15

That sort of issue crops up all the time in medicine. Screening for conditions will always produce some false positives, and the ramifications can vary from scaring the shit out of someone for a few weeks before you determine they don't have cancer after all to them dying as a result of further testing/treatment that wouldn't have happened without that initial screening. That and the potential adverse outcomes of the screening itself (and its costs) always has to be weighed against the value of the true positives.

gus_massa on 2024-05-16

> b) the 12 authors of that paper have probably put a bit of thought into the usefulness and efficacy of this kind of very early detection, and concluded it was worth reporting on their research

Nah. It's not how science is done. You fill a lot of paperwork to ask for money and then a lot of paperwork to ask for permision to use human, and after the study is finished you must publish whatever positive result you got. Otherwise you will never get more money, or will be fired, or your students will not finish their Ph.D., or never get a position.

My guess is that they actuallly think that it's a important topic and that it's an important new tool. Everyone thinks that thir own topic is important.

About the efficacy, it's an early study. They show that the method somewhat works and it may be a good idea to continue improving the method to get more accurate diagnosis, perhaps distingish the different types of cancer, or perhaps it's a dead end.

About the usefulness, it's more difficult to evaluate. It's a decition that should be made by a team with a brader vision that can analyze the alternatives and the cost of each one. The research team has always a narrow vision.

tracker1 on 2024-05-16

LOTS of research on humans never gets published... depends on the results and who is paying for it.

gus_massa on 2024-05-17

I agree that negative results are not published many times, but if they got some minimal positive result, I guess they will try to publish somewhere.

> Scientists at the University of Oxford studied blood samples from more than 44,000 people in the UK Biobank, including over 4,900 people who subsequently had a cancer diagnosis.

It looks like the kind of study that has to present a report after it's completed and adding a publushed paper in Nature Whatever is a huge win. Nobody is fired for publishing in Nature.

snarf21 on 2024-05-15

I think we also should be looking more at change over time, not just results as a distinct value. A lot of these values have ranges and error margins but looking at changes over time can be quite informative, especially for cases where your body takes care of any potential issues. I think there are a lot of diseases we could treat in cheaper ways with improved QoL if detected early. Too often we try to fix a crashed car instead of checking the brakes once a year.

zjp on 2024-05-15

It seems like every other day there's a new breakthrough. I watched my paternal grandmother succumb to lung cancer when I was 7. She was my favorite person on Earth at the time and watching her go was devastating. It gives me so much hope to watch the category "treatable and preventable cancers" expand over time.

consf on 2024-05-15

I have a similar experience with my grandmother. Only she had stomach cancer. Such research warms my heart

EspadaV9 on 2024-05-15

I donated some blood a couple of years back and they came back saying there were proteins present. Having follow up tests at the moment, but none of the other markers are present that would normally be there if there was cancer. Still waiting to get further follow up tests, but no one seems to be worried enough to rush things along.

HappyJoy on 2024-05-15

Where did you donate? The only feedback I usually get is a certificate every 8 trips.

EspadaV9 on 2024-05-16

This was with the Red Cross in Australia. I'm original from the UK and was not allowed to donate before due to CJD worries. The first time I was able to donate, they ran a full test (not sure if they do that for all donations or not) and I got a call back saying they had found markers for blood cancer. As mentioned, follow up tests haven't shown any other markers, and the levels of protein hasn't changed over that time, so have a 6 month wait now for the next follow ups.

Symmetry on 2024-05-15

I donate platelets with the Red Cross every month and I've got an app where they give me the blood pressure and hemoglobin level, and which used to tell me if I had Covid-19 antibodies before everybody did via vaccine or infection.

Before I donate I have to sign something that says, among other things "We're going to test your blood for AIDS and tell you if you have it, so if you don't want to know don't donate". I hadn't thought about the other things they test for but of course they don't want blood with Leukemia in it either.

frontman1988 on 2024-05-15

Why wouldn't someone not want to know they have AIDS? Given the disease is not a death sentence anymore and the earlier you know better your chances of survival. The warning probably deters a lot of people who could have otherwise been saved by timely treatment.

vundercind on 2024-05-15

You still need to get consent for that. Like, you can’t just assume.

trallnag on 2024-05-15

Maybe it's part of the whole bug chasing phenomenon

krisoft on 2024-05-15

> Still waiting to get further follow up tests,

I hope all will turn out good for you, and wishing you the best of luck.

> they came back saying there were proteins present.

I think probably there is a bit of a Chinese whisper kind of misunderstanding here. Your blood will contain proteins. It must. Everyone's blood does. For example hemoglobin is a type of protein which makes your red blood cells able to carry oxygen.

What they probably told you is that they found the wrong quantity or the wrong kind of proteins.

Wishing you the best!

EspadaV9 on 2024-05-16

Yes, sorry, it was hightened levels of proteins. Checking the report and it has these highlighted in red

    Total Protein Initial Screen (g/L): 87 (normal range 61-84)
    Immunoglobulin IgA (g/L): 4.9 (normal range < 4.8)
    Immunoglobulin IgG Initial Screen (g/L): 18.5 (normal range 5.0 - 15.0)
And thank you. There's been a lot of Dr Googling about it, and it all sounds a bit scary, but will be jumping on whatever treatments are needed should the worse happen.

gus_massa on 2024-05-16

Wikipedia in Spanish says

> con una concentración de 600-1800 mg por 100 mL

IANAMD. It looks like most of the time the increase can be produced by many common infections that are not dangerous. I strongly recomend to get a second opinion before starting some invasive procedure.

dogtorwoof on 2024-05-15

Which proteins?

EspadaV9 on 2024-05-16

The only information on the report is the following

    Total Protein Initial Screen (g/L): 87 (normal range 61-84)
    Immunoglobulin IgA (g/L): 4.9 (normal range < 4.8)
    Immunoglobulin IgG Initial Screen (g/L): 18.5 (normal range 5.0 - 15.0)
Just the IgG that seems to be significantly above the normal range. Not sure how accurate the tests are, but the first 2 feel like they could be within margin of errors.

unsupp0rted on 2024-05-15

Oh boy, I hope one of those markers is for Pancreatic. That's the/a silent killer.

adamors on 2024-05-15

It isn't unfortunately

> Little evidence for protein associations was observed in these data for cancers of the pancreas, thyroid, lip and oral cavity, or melanoma after correcting for multiple tests

From the study

anotherpaulg on 2024-05-15

The Galleri blood test claims to pick up pancreatic cancer early. Which I agree, is one which would be great to find early.

> More aggressive cancers, such as pancreatic cancer, tend to release more cell-free DNA into the bloodstream at early stages and are more likely to be detected by the Galleri test.

arrosenberg on 2024-05-15

CA 19-9 is the marker everyone is look at for Panc.

xyst on 2024-05-16

Scientists and researchers come up with something new but it’s held back for years because “insurance doesn’t cover it, yet” and cites some bs “experimental treatment/test” reason.

It’s a shame the US doesn’t have any way to quickly order non-invasive tests. Tests often only ordered when you are symptomatic. Even in those cases, you often get the bare minimum.

Have seen doctors personally and as an observing third party totally write them off. Instead of diagnosing, prescribe meds and treat symptomatically.

nerdjon on 2024-05-15

Am I crazy in thinking that we heard about this several years ago? Is this just a continuation of that study or am I mis-remembering/my timeline way off?

This is really exciting though, especially when mixed with other cancer treatments the ability to catch and deal with this is fascinating. How long until a theoretical, "Oh we detected some cancer cells in your regular blood work, here is a shot to deal with it" like we treat many other things.

graywh on 2024-05-15

we've been searching for blood biomarkers for cancer for decades -- I'm sure we've found several by now

nextos on 2024-05-15

You've been hearing about ctDNA. Which is really interesting and predictive.

But it is hard to tune so that it is practical enough to be deployed in routine healthcare. Efforts so far have not been sensitive or specific enough.

jemmyw on 2024-05-15

You're not crazy, I recall a similar story too.

yieldcrv on 2024-05-15

with the addition of an mRNA treatment approach I'm willing to think 8 years off from at least a dozen cancers that currently only get detected after they've metastasized.

ekanes on 2024-05-15

Compared to most cancer-related findings, this seems clear, simple and easy to replicate / disprove. Hopefully quickly, as it'd be a huge win for humanity.

srigi on 2024-05-15

Isn’t the cancer the “exponential game”? If there are 20 cancer cells in the body on day 1, on day 30 there will be 10737418240 (10.7B) cells if they double every day. This is how we were taught about cancer, so it is a very quick process when started. How can you get 7 years of ahead of time in this setup?

arrosenberg on 2024-05-15

They don't necessarily double every day. Some tumors are very stable, some are particularly metastatic. It often depends on access to blood supply and what type of cell has become cancerous.

m3kw9 on 2024-05-15

You detect it and then what? You get depressed and there is no treatment for something that early. Better to test for obvious signs every year based on susceptiblility.

Maybe the depression and stress can make you more sick, let alone the effect on your family should you announce it

goda90 on 2024-05-15

Improve your health with better diet, exercise, sleep. Find and reduce carcinogen exposures. Give your immune system a chance to nip it in the bud before you even need treatment.

jimbobthrowawy on 2024-05-15

Here's hoping this kind of screening becomes quick and cheap enough to do at home or regularly at a pharmacy.

I'd like to get a rough estimate of how many moles I have at least once a year if it wasn't a huge effort.

andrewmutz on 2024-05-15

You can get these sorts of tests already. Last year I used this company's product and it was a smooth experience:

ak217 on 2024-05-15

Grail's test is a cfDNA test. It detects DNA fragments in blood that are indicative of specific methylation patterns that are in turn indicative of possible cancerous growth. While a good approach, there are continued sensitivity challenges with cfDNA tests.

This research is a high quality longitudinal retrospective study of protein cancer biomarkers, not cfDNA. Protein biomarkers are a complementary signal that has the potential to boost the sensitivity and precision of these tests, especially when the signals are combined together.

consf on 2024-05-15

Early detection is crucial in improving outcomes for cancer patients, as it allows for timely treatment and intervention when the disease is most treatable. And these kinds of research are promising

kazinator on 2024-05-15

Say we find some proteins in the blood that hint at cancer 7 years away. How is that actionable, and will it make a difference?

How low is the false positive rate?

tomoyoirl on 2024-05-15

A key benefit is that it might be able to perform follow up screenings that make sense for that type of cancer, rather than expecting absolutely everyone to take all the tests ever at the same rate, at significant inconvenience and expense.

hanson108 on 2024-05-16

I’m excited about these advances. And optimistic that they will save lives.

macawfish on 2024-05-15

So you can get seven years more of nocebo effect, anxiety, stress and worry?

njarboe on 2024-05-15

Does this mean we can get the 5 year cancer survival rate to 100%?

anonzzzies on 2024-05-15

Hope we found a lot of these type of things. 7 years is a big win.

blindriver on 2024-05-15

How does this differ from the GRAIL blood tests?

epistasis on 2024-05-15

Grail is looking at DNA methylation sites, this is looking at proteins.

GRAIL is available today, this test will need to be validated and commercialized

blindriver on 2024-05-16

Thank you

forinti on 2024-05-15

And how are you going to find the source?

_xerces_ on 2024-05-15

You're right, these proteins could be associated with conditions that can later lead to mutations that cause cells to become cancerous, but they don't point to a specific cancer. Interestingly they hint at modifying the proteins to reduce the likelihood of getting something, but that could be risk in itself. A lifestyle change could be helpful in some cases.

I suppose if you have enough of these markers they could schedule routine testing earlier than usual, say 40 instead of 45 for colonoscopy, mammogram, etc.

kemmishtree on 2024-05-15

i.e., Why We Need Utility-Scale Solid-State Molecular Sensing, Reason #53,444,001

Slava_Propanei on 2024-05-17


stuff4ben on 2024-05-15

How long before that becomes a mandatory test to get health insurance? Or somehow the data is bought by insurers who then use it to jack up the rates for those who will eventually get cancer. God I hate the US healthcare system!

DennisP on 2024-05-15

Insurance companies haven't been allowed to deny coverage for preexisting conditions since 2014, due to Obamacare. They can't even raise premiums. The only variables are age, sex, smoking, and where you live.

This applies both to employer plans and the ACA plans on, where you can get a quote without giving them any health data at all.

Koala_ice on 2024-05-15

But, you can get absolutely destroyed on life insurance and, just as critically, long-term care insurance. Genetic discrimination is perfectly legal in those domains.

qclibre22 on 2024-05-15

You can be denied some kinds of health insurance :

DennisP on 2024-05-15

Only if you miss the open enrollment period, and even then, you still have Medicare regardless.

It seems reasonable not to let people over 65 wait until they have cancer before purchasing supplemental insurance.

bonton89 on 2024-05-15

Is there anything stopping an employer from pretesting you to avoid adding a potentially expensive employee to their roster?

zamadatix on 2024-05-15

Generally it runs aground with things like the ADA because you can't just "accidentally" find out the person has a covered condition, you're just never allowed to ask or require it be told. Exceptions for something like an airline pilot on matters related to the job like sight notwithstanding. This is why you always see things like "can lift up to 40 lbs" type requirements instead.

Tenoke on 2024-05-15

This is such an odd take for me. If the test works and insurance makes the test mandatory (which seems pretty unlikely, what other comparable tests are mandatory?) then more people will get an early diagnosis, and less people will die! The incentives are aligned, the system works!