According to the World Cancer Research Fund, there were an “estimated 14.1 million newly diagnosed cancer cases worldwide in 2012, of these 7.4 million cases were in men and 6.7 million in women. This number is expected to increase to 24 million by 2035.” What is not commonly known is that the majority of these diseases involve invasive or metastatic disease related to late-stage diagnoses.
- Lung cancer was the most common cancer worldwide contributing 13% of the total number of new cases diagnosed in 2012.
- Breast cancer (women only) was the second most common cancer with nearly 1.7 million new cases in 2012.
- Colorectal cancer was the third most common cancer with nearly 1.4 million new cases in 2012.
The World Cancer Research Fund also estimates that between one-fifth and one-fourth of cancers worldwide were correlated to obesity, physical inactivity, and/or poor nutrition, and therefore, could be prevented through lifestyle choices and changes.
But is there any way to detect cancer at its very earliest stages to save lives? A recent research article in the Science Translational Medicine Journal provides hope and insight. Plasma samples were collected from patients suffering with four types of cancer as well as from healthy patients with no known cancers. Scientists then identified genetic alterations in the plasma of cancer patients, which enabled them to develop a methodology for analyzing driver genes that commonly mutate in colorectal, lung, breast, ovarian and other cancers.
By analyzing cell-free DNA (cfDNA) and circulating tumor-derived DNA (ctDNA) which accumulate in cancer patients at varying rates, scientists hope to better identify cancers at their earliest stages as well as identify cancer-free patients and possibly why they remain cancer-free.
While the tests are still being perfected, they have so far predicted early stage colon cancer 71% of the time, breast cancer and lung cancer 59% of the time. While the results are promising, the next step is to validate them in larger studies. Clearly, this is the beginning of an arduous process but one that is well worth the effort as cancer diagnoses continue to rise.