Sign up for our daily briefing

Make your busy days simpler with Axios AM/PM. Catch up on what's new and why it matters in just 5 minutes.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Stay on top of the latest market trends

Subscribe to Axios Markets for the latest market trends and economic insights. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sports news worthy of your time

Binge on the stats and stories that drive the sports world with Axios Sports. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tech news worthy of your time

Get our smart take on technology from the Valley and D.C. with Axios Login. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Get the inside stories

Get an insider's guide to the new White House with Axios Sneak Peek. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Denver news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Des Moines news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Twin Cities news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Tampa Bay news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa Bay

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Charlotte news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

A robot processes samples for evaluation from the blood-based CancerSEEK test. Photo: Fred Dubs / Johns Hopkins Medical Pathology

Scientists announced Thursday in the journal Science that they've developed a highly specific blood test that screens for 8 common cancer types, helps identify the location of the cancer, and is expected to cost about $500.

Why it matters: The research community is searching for a non-invasive way to screen for cancer but has faced huge problems of high costs and false positives — which can cause a patient unnecessary testing and anxiety.

Yes, but: The study was conducted in a relatively small number of cancer patients. Some scientists believe the high specificity and sensitivity rates of the CancerSEEK test may drop in a larger patient group and say they will be watching the results from a larger trial expected in about 18 months.

"The key is to find [cancer tumors] early," says study author Nickolas Papadopoulos of the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center. "Then the [treatment] therapeutics will work better, the surgeries will work better."

The study details: Over several years, the team tested 1,005 cancer patients (with stage I to III cancers that had not metastasized) and 812 healthy people to assess mutations in cancer genes and circulating proteins that tend to indicate cancer.

  • They focused on segments of 16 cancer genes and 8 protein biomarkers in an effort to increase the sensitivity and specificity and lower the cost of sequencing.
  • They then developed an algorithm that analyzes specific protein and genetic mutations to help narrow down the body location of the cancers.
  • Of the 8 cancers (ovary, liver, stomach, pancreas, esophagus, colorectum, lung and breast) in the test, 5 of them do not yet have any screening test. These cancers account for roughly 60% of all cancer deaths in the U.S.

What they found: The team detected cancer with a sensitivity of 69%–98%, depending on the cancer, and showed a 99% specificity meaning there were few false positives.

  • Less than 1%, (or 7 out of 812) of the healthy controls had a false positive.
  • The algorithm was able to locate the source of the cancer to two sites in the body in 83% of these patients, and to a single organ in 63% of the patients.

Study limitations: Theodora Ross, director of UT Southwestern Medical Center’s Cancer Genetics Program who was not part of this study, says the paper has "an intriguing idea to combine distinct [protein and ctDNA] assays to increase sensitivity without losing specificity” but the patient cohort presents limitations.

Ross says the patients should not include Stage III cancer patients, particularly for ovarian cancer patients who often have protein biomarkers that are easier to detect and can skew the sensitivity results of blood tests.

A big challenge: H. Gilbert Welch, a professor at The Dartmouth Institute who also was not part of the study, says one of the real challenges of blood biopsies, is that once you get a false positive, doctors do not know when to stop looking for the elusive cancer.

"How do we put it to bed that we don't have cancer, once people have a positive [but false] liquid biopsy," Welch says.

What's next: Papadopoulos says they have started Phase A trial of 10,000 patients. This is part of a $50 million, 5-year study of up to 50,000 women being funded by philanthropic group The Marcus Foundation, Science magazine reports.

Go deeper

Biden confronts mounting humanitarian crisis at the border

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photo: Pool/Getty Images     

Just over a month into his presidency, President Biden is staring down a mounting crisis at the border that could be just as bad as the ones faced by Barack Obama and Donald Trump, if not worse.

Why it matters: Immigration is an issue that can consume a presidency. It's intensely and poisonously partisan. It's complicated. And the lives and welfare of vulnerable children hang in the balance.

Erica Pandey, author of @Work
1 hour ago - Economy & Business

The rise of vaccine passports

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Vaccine passports were touted early in the pandemic as an important piece of the plan to get people back to normal life. Now they’re becoming a reality.

Driving the news: CLEAR, the secure digital identity app that you see in airports around the world, and CommonPass, a health app that lets users securely access vaccination records and COVID test results, have joined forces.

"Vaccine tourism" stretches states' supplies

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Americans who are highly motivated to get vaccinated are traveling across state lines after hearing about larger vaccine supplies or loopholes in sign-up systems.

Why it matters: "Vaccine tourism" raises ethical and legal questions, and could worsen the racial socioeconomic and racial inequalities of the pandemic.