A new test that's being called a "cancer stethoscope" might be able to detect cancer before you show symptoms through a simple blood test. Pathway Genomics, the company behind the test, said it could save lives—and lower the high cost of cancer treatments—but others say it might do more harm than good.
CancerIntercept Detect is a blood test designed to detect cancer early, possibly before showing any symptoms. When you have cancer, the tumor grows and releases small fragments of DNA into your bloodstream. The "liquid biopsy" looks for tumor DNA in patients who are at high risk for cancer, due to family history, lifestyle choices, or environmental exposures.
"Rising levels of tumor DNA may indicate progression of the cancer before there is clinical or imaging evidence of tumor growth," Dr. Glenn Braunstein, chief medical officer of Pathway Genomics, said in a statement. For now, the test can detect mutations associated with colorectal, breast, ovarian, lung, and skin cancer, among others.
The test costs $299 every three months if you want repeat tests, or $699 if you just want one. The company also offers a separate test to monitor patients who have cancer, to see how their bodies are responding to treatment and if new mutations are popping up in the bloodstream.
But not everyone is on board with the idea, NBC News reports. Getting DNA cancer tests before symptoms appear may actually be more of a hindrance to your health, especially if you get a false positive or a false negative. And if you get your results and don't understand them, you might be led to make rash medical decisions. A few years ago, Walgreens pulled Pathway's other genetic tests after health regulators pointed this problem out.
In order for this test to really take off, experts say that Pathway needs to do a lot more testing to figure out if it helps people beat cancer. If it does, it could be a huge step to catching cancer before it does its worst.