Successful cancer treatment and symptom management depend largely on early detection through medical testing.
But even though modern medicine has made huge progress in the early screening of cancer, too many patients are still not getting the early diagnosis that is crucial.
Additionally, some forms of cancer such as ovarian cancer and liver cancer are very difficult to detect early in their progression.
DNA testing is one of the brightest new points of hope in the fight for early cancer diagnosis.
DNA not only helps detect cancer early, it also helps in predicting the disease before symptoms appear.
This article explains the current state of DNA cancer screening; the impact it has had on cancer treatment and prevention so far; and, what the future holds.
Traditional Cancer Testing
• Biopsy – This is one of the surest ways to diagnose most types of cancer. It is often used to confirm the presence of a cancerous tumor after a physical or imaging examination.
• Breast MRI – It uses magnetic fields to capture images of breast tissue and combine them to create a highly detailed imaging. This is then used to detect and evaluate tumors in the breast. A breast MRI is often proffered to ultrasound and mammograms especially for detection of very small tumors.
• CT Scan – A computed topography scan detects the presence of tumors, evaluates their severity and determines whether current treatment is working.
These three tests are just a few of the most popular ones. There are many others, some which are designed for specific types of cancer.
DNA-Based Screening Tests for Cancer
Most cases of cancer are caused by environmental and lifestyle factors. A small percentage of cases are as a result of genetic mutations. About 5 to 10 percent cases of cancer are caused by inherited mutations. For individuals whom cancer runs in the family, a DNA screening test can help predict the chances of cancer developing.
DNA testing looks for specific gene mutations that increase the chances of the development of cancerous tumors.
The most popular DNA tests are for the genes BRCA1 and BRCA2. If screening finds that these two genes have altered, it means a greatly increased risk of breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
Another DNA test is that for Li-Fraumeni syndrome. If the syndrome is present, it means that gene TP53 has mutated. The cancer risks resulting from this mutation include breast cancer, brain tumors, carcinoma and leukemia among others.
Yet another test looks for mutation of the gene APC. This mutation is associated with colorectal cancer, bone cancer and stomach cancer.
If one wants to take a DNA health screen test without going to the doctor, 23andme.com is an excellent option. From their screening tests, it is possible to detect mutations that cause breast and ovarian cancers. These services are available only in Europe for now.
The Future of DNA Cancer Screening
Current DNA cancer tests only look at a limited number of genes. They ignore many other genes that may also be used to indicate a high likelihood of cancer in the future.
Additionally, results currently take a long time to come back, and the tests can be very expensive.
A look into the future however, provides some hope for faster, more comprehensive and cheaper genetic cancer testing.
A good example is the DNA chip. This chip, when inserted in the body, can detect the activity of many different genes at ones. This helps doctors identify which genes are problematic. It also helps in creating effective customized treatments.
Another exciting possibility is liquid biopsy. With this technique, doctors should be able to detect tumor DNA in blood even earlier than ever before.
Looking at it all, it is obvious that medicine is still in its infancy when it comes to early cancer testing.
But the best thing about it is that the future of DNA cancer screening is exceptionally bright – and is arriving very quickly.