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Lifeline: Blood Test Could Be A 'Cancer Catcher'

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Dennis Douda


(WCCO) Claire Tipton says for her, every day is a gift. Seven years ago, doctors told her she was in the advanced stages of lung and ovarian cancer.

"I was given a terminal diagnosis," Tipton said.

Swelling in her neck led to a biopsy, CT scan and blood tests, including one for a biomarker called CA-125.

The blood test looks for proteins whose behavior can signal the presence or absence of cancer.

"At every front, biomarkers are playing a key role," said Dr. Marty McIntosh, a cancer researcher wit the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

McIntosh says while CA-125 is the best option right now, it produces many false positives.

That's why researchers are so excited about a biomarker called HE-4. A growing number of studies now show it's much more accurate.

"HE-4 appears to be on its own to be as sensitive as CA-125 for identifying ovarian cancer, but does not seem to make very many mistakes in a benign ovarian disease," McIntosh said.

That would mean fewer false positives and fewer unnecessary procedures; also, right now, biomarker testing for ovarian cancer is done after symptoms appear.

Dr. McIntosh says HE-4 is being tested to see if it's effective in early detection and should become routine one day.

"Predicting whether or not you have the disease and it's very early, or even once you have a disease, helping you predict what treatments may respond," McIntosh explained.

Early diagnosis is key to survival. Right now, Tipton is responding to chemotherapy and is in stable condition. She has a positive outlook on life and on the future of HE-4.

"It sounds like it's a tremendous opportunity for people to avoid going through all kinds of steps they may not need to," Tipton said.

The newer blood test may be made available in a few years.

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