Researchers develop a computer program that detects cancer before symptoms arise


Researchers from the University of California and Southern California have developed a computer program that could identify and locate cancerous cells even before symptoms arise.

The program is called CancerLocator and according to the team, can detect tumour DNA in patient blood samples accurately and also point to where the tumour is located in the body. During an experiment, the program was able to successfully diagnose lung, liver and breast cancer in 80% of cases it sampled.

CancerLocator works by analysing DNA that escapes into the bloodstream when cells die. Each isolated component of DNA has a unique pattern of chemical add-ons, these add-ons are called methyl groups that mark which genes were turned on or off, the markers can indicate if a gene was effected by a cancerous cell or not.

“It’s very much like a message in a bottle,” Jasmine Zhou, professor of pathology at the University of California, Los Angeles, and co-lead author of the study told Motherboard.

This cell-free DNA floating in the blood can tell us the secrets of each cell or organ that it’s from.

According to the team, the goal of this software is to develop it into a generic screening test because the potential benefits to the “public are huge.” Zhou went on further to explain that the study involved implementing machine learning to blood tests as they drew on data available in the Cancer Genome Atlas database to teach the software to recognize which patterns were normal from those which showed tumour signs.

This will open the possibility for earlier screening and even better treatment. Thanks to technology, soon invasive biopsies will not be required anymore.

Cancer is a group of diseases involving abnormal cell growth with the potential to invade or spread to other parts of the body. Not all tumors are cancerous; benign tumors do not spread to other parts of the body. Possible signs and symptoms include a lump, abnormal bleeding, prolonged cough, unexplained weight loss and a change in bowel movements. While these symptoms may indicate cancer, they may have other causes. Cancer is an ancient disease with descriptions dating back to ancient Egypt. In 2016, a 1.7 million year old osteosarcoma was reported, representing the oldest documented malignant hominin cancer

Tobacco use is the cause of about 22% of cancer deaths. Another 10% is due to obesity, poor diet, lack of physical activity and drinking alcohol. Other factors include certain infections, exposure to ionizing radiation and environmental pollutants.

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