A Cancer Test That Can Detect It Up To 13 Years Prior to Development

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Researchers at Harvard and Northwestern University are developing a cancer test that can detect it up to 13 years before its onset.  You heard that correctly:







Check out the article from Telegraph:

They found that the protective caps on the ends of chromosomes, which prevent DNA damage, had significantly more wear and tear in people who went on to develop cancer. In fact, in some cases they looked 15 years older.

Those caps, known as telomeres, were much shorter than they should be and continued to get shorter until around four years before the cancer developed, when they suddenly stopped shrinking. All the people with the changes went on to develop cancer.

“Understanding this pattern of telomere growth may mean it can be a predictive biomarker for cancer,” said Dr. Lifang Hou, the lead study author and a professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

“Because we saw a strong relationship in the pattern across a wide variety of cancers, with the right testing these procedures could be used to eventually diagnose a wide variety of cancers.”

Although many people may not want to know that they will develop cancer in the future, it could allow them to make lifestyle changes to lower their risk. Stanford University is also working on a project looking at how telemores can be regrown.

However insurance companies warned that such a test could push up policy premiums.

Matt Sanders, in charge of protection insurance products at GoCompare, said people with such a diagnoses could be priced out of the insurance marker.

“If this test showed 100 per cent probability over a certain number of years then it could affect premiums. It would be the equivalent of living in a high theft area for someone looking for home insurance,” he said.

“Premiums could rise to a point where some people would simply be priced out. However if it was shown that diagnosing earlier could prevent cancer then that could bring down premiums.”

Aviva also said that continually monitored advances in medical sciences ‘ to ensure they are reflected in the premiums paid by our customers, where appropriate.’

In the new study, scientists took multiple measurements of telomeres over a 13-year period in 792 persons, 135 of whom were eventually diagnosed with different types of cancer, including prostate, skin, lung and leukaemia.

Initially, scientists discovered telomeres aged much faster, indicated by a more rapid loss of length, in individuals who were developing but not yet diagnosed with cancer.

Telomeres in all the people who went on to develop cancer looked as much as 15 years older than those of people who were not developing the disease.

But then scientists found the accelerated aging process stopped three to four years before the cancer diagnosis.

Telomeres shorten every time a cell divides. The older a person is, the more times each cell has divided, and the shorter their telomeres.

Because cancer cells divide and grow rapidly, scientists would expect the cell would get so short it would self-destruct. But that’s not what happens, scientists discovered.

“We found cancer has hijacked the telomere shortening in order to flourish in the body,” added Dr Hou.

The team is hoping that if it can identify how cancer hijacks the cell, then treatments could be developed to cause cancer cells to self-destruct without harming healthy cells.

For those less scientifically inclined as myself, telomeres are the end-caps that shield the ends of our DNA.  These are an essential part of human cells that affect how our cells change.  Without this coating our DNA becomes damaged and our cells can’t do their job (source).

cancer test telomere

These telomeres maintain genetic stability and their length decreases with age and environmental exposures causing oxidative stress.  Chronic inflammation can also accelerate this process.

Previous research hasn’t been very reliable or helpful since it measured the BTL (Blood Telomere Length) after the disease developed which doesn’t help isolate whether the shortening was due to the disease and the treatment or both.

The research article, available on ScienceDirect, indicates that the telomeres in cancer-diagnosed individuals were found to be much older, by about 15 years.  The aging ceased 3-4 years prior to the onset of the disease.

So how do telomeres shorten?

Telomeres shorten every time a cell divides.  The older a person is, the more times each cell has divided and the shorter the telomere.

Cancer cells divide and grow rapidly but instead of these cells self-destructing, the cancer is using this telomere shortening to flourish the body.

As noted by Dr. Hou in the article, they are trying to discover how this hijacking occurs to try and have the cells self-destruct without harming healthy cells.  Alternatively, Stanford University is also looking at how telomeres can be regrown.

There is still more work to be done.  Especially considering that the participant pool for this research was all men, primarily Caucasian, so more research with a more diverse group that includes women is needed.  Still, this is a great place to start and it brings hope to creating a cancer test that can potentially lead to the prevention of the disease.  A disease that could inevitably take your life or the life of someone close to you.

The article points out that some folks may not want to know if they are going to develop cancer in the future; who wouldn’t!? If you can prevent and prolong your life why wouldn’t you want to have this vital piece of insight? I for one want to sign up as soon as this test is available. I may not be as proactive with a lot of other aspects of my life but when it comes to my health I would like to leave this world knowing I did everything humanly possible to remain on it.  When I die, it is going to be because every force in this universe said it’s time to go.

What are your thoughts on this potential cancer test? What have you been learning lately?


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  • Melanie
    May 6, 2015 at 12:12 PM

    This is good to know! thanks for sharing!
    Melanie @ meandmr.com

    • AwesomelyOZ
      May 7, 2015 at 8:36 AM

      I thought so too! You’re welcome and have a great one Melanie! -Iva

  • Stephanie
    May 6, 2015 at 5:20 PM

    Yes, I would want to know! I’m adopted, so I’ll never know my genetic cancer risks. A test would be so neat. Then you could do everything to lower your risk or get tested all the time to stop it the second it pops up.

    • AwesomelyOZ
      May 7, 2015 at 8:38 AM

      Agreed, I’d definitely want to know! Wow see that would definitely be beneficial to know then since you don’t know your genetic backup. Hopefully we’re all clear but it’s good to know in advance to be able to prevent it in the future. Exactly the key to prevention is knowledge and awareness! 🙂 Take Care Stephanie and talk soon -Iva

  • Tamara
    May 6, 2015 at 6:53 PM

    I honestly don’t even know if I’d want to know! I guess I would, but with the promise that all this knowledge would also lead to cures or prevention and not just, “Eat broccoli and maybe you won’t get it!”

    • AwesomelyOZ
      May 7, 2015 at 8:39 AM

      I want to know regardless because there are always ways to lower or reduce the risks – I’m sure we know enough about them to help stop them. Even if there is not a clear-cut way of eliminating the risks; I’d like to think we at least have enough time to figure it out. Time is of the essence with these things and that’s the whole awesomeness of the potential here. 🙂 Take Care Tam Tam and talk soon! -Iva

  • MarlaJan
    May 7, 2015 at 11:46 AM

    Mind. Blown. Genetics was by far my favorite course in undergrad (the first time around… LOL), so this article really spoke to me. As I was reading, the first thing to pop into my mind was insurance. How pricey for the test, and what are the implications if you are found to have shortened telomeres… what would that do to your premiums? How very sad, right? I can only hope that as this test is given to a more diverse group, and if those fine folks in New England are really on to something, that this is the new normal. Preventative medicine has a loooooong way to go, and I think I the future a test like this could dramaticall lower costs in the long-run.

    • AwesomelyOZ
      May 8, 2015 at 9:01 AM

      Mind blown indeed chicka!! The article pointed out those concerns about the premiums for insurance being impacted based on the outcome of this test. It’s sad indeed because it’s something that can save your life but if you think about it saving your life is very costly in this country.. Whether you’re sick or not; exams, preventive care, it all costs money – let’s not get into the logistics if you’re actually down int the dump truck sick.. Jeez I’m sure you can definitely vouch for how frustrating insurance companies can be! I agree a more diverse population would be great; in my ignorant opinion I doubt it would change much since we are talking about something at the cellular level but still.. it’s good to cross the ‘t’s and dot the ‘i’s. I would hope in the long run it would lower costs – preventive care is good for everyone and if we can avoid folks getting sick with cancer that can long-term save them and the insurance companies thousands, if not, mils of dollars. Sad that instead this is the focus lol insurance! Damn it! 🙂 Have a great one and hope you’re feeling wonderful gorgeous! Take Care Marla Jan -Iva

  • SMD @ Life According to Steph
    May 7, 2015 at 1:28 PM

    I think I’d want to know. Even if I couldn’t do anything to stop it (my hope would be that I could, of course), I’d want to know.

    • AwesomelyOZ
      May 8, 2015 at 9:03 AM

      Exactly, I’d definitely want to know. It’s about preparedness and being able to make arrangements should it truly be inevitable. I guess some folks couldn’t live with that, assuming there’s no way to stop it, but still.. information is power. Have a great one Stephanie and talk soon! -Iva

  • Yulunda
    May 9, 2015 at 12:20 AM

    This is very intriguing as I never knew people growing up who had cancer as it was rare. Now, not so much! It so devastating.

    I would love to see the research results for a more diverse group and the variances and factors.

    My prayer and that a cure is found soon!

    You Rock Iva! ❤

    • AwesomelyOZ
      May 11, 2015 at 9:56 AM

      Sad how it’s just not uncommon – the prevalence is higher than I feel it ought to be. Devastating in the greatest form indeed. Hoping they are able to develop this test and ensure the validity across various groups and variables.

      Let’s hope cures are on the way indeed – At least we’re on the road for very early detection.. Have a great one gorgeous! Talk Soon Yulunda <3 -Iva

  • Jen
    May 9, 2015 at 9:26 AM

    GAH this is like that whole “predict when you will die” website I avoided in college. I can’t even take those dumb zombie apocolypse quizzes that tell me how long I would last. I am so freaking stupidly anxious it would wreck my life. I’m all for people and doctors having that type of information. But for me…it would likely result in some sort of Breaking Bad situation.

    • AwesomelyOZ
      May 11, 2015 at 9:59 AM

      LOL Yeah but with greater validity and I mean, hopefully, the test is not about “when you will die” but preventing something that CAN kill you earlier than you ought to. I’m an anxious one too but sometimes we have to know lol especially when you have kids! Well Breaking Bad he already had it but imagine being able to stop it? It’d be worth it! Think positive lol! Have a great one lovely Jen! Talk Soon -Iva

  • GiGi Eats
    May 10, 2015 at 9:57 PM

    I really love the medical advances that are COMING OUR WAY!!!! I just hope they can hurry up and get here already though 😉 haha ha ha!

    My mom always says to me: By the time you’re my age, they’re going to have so many aging procedure advances – I am jealous! LOL!

    • AwesomelyOZ
      May 11, 2015 at 10:03 AM

      Seriously, this would be a tremendous tool in the future. LOL I’m hoping they can hurry up too – It’d be interesting to see how they go about delivering the results and the follow ups that need to go down if they find you could develop something. LOL Your mom is right, just think about all the aging advances we’ve made thus far when she was our age and watched all the women around her age. 🙂 Have a great one GiGI! Take Care lovely -Iva

  • briana
    May 11, 2015 at 9:31 AM

    I wrote a post a while back (http://www.stilleasierthanchemo.com/twenty-years/) wondering what if my mother had known she had a finite amount of time to spend with her family. I already expect a cancer diagnosis — genetic testing concludes I have a 26% chance of developing breast cancer in my lifetime. It’s a great, if not grim, reminder that life is short. Live it to the fullest the best you can.

    • AwesomelyOZ
      May 11, 2015 at 10:24 AM

      Sorry to hear about your mother.. And hope you don’t go on to develop breast cancer either. Life is definitely short and we should take advantage of every day indeed. We never know when we won’t be here anymore. Thank you for sharing your story, I’ll be stopping by shortly. Have a wonderful day and thanks for stopping by Briana! -Iva

  • Rudri Bhatt Patel @ Being Rudri
    May 11, 2015 at 11:25 PM

    I am ambivalent as to whether I would want to know. I am such a worrier, it might work against me. However, having a choice in knowing may also offer a way to take measures to prepare yourself to combat it.

    • AwesomelyOZ
      May 15, 2015 at 8:04 AM

      I agree, and it would depend on which type might they find. I’m also a worrier but I’d prefer to try and combat it early than it take my life later on. Thanks for stopping by Rudri and talk soon! 🙂 -Iva

  • kathy @ real talk
    May 14, 2015 at 1:05 PM

    i’d definitely want to know and then do everything i possible can to prevent it and also LIVE LIFE LIKE YOLO haha 🙂

    • AwesomelyOZ
      May 15, 2015 at 8:06 AM

      Agreed chicka, it’s better to know and be prepared than have your life shortened in the end. LOL YOLO indeed Kathy! Talk soon – I’ll be stopping by shortly 🙂 Have a great weekend! -Iva

  • Laura @ Sprint 2 the Table
    May 15, 2015 at 1:38 PM

    I don’t know if I’d want to know… would I really do anything differently? I don’t know…

    I wonder about the insurance implications too. It’ll be interesting to see how it unfolds as science continues to evolve.

    • AwesomelyOZ
      May 19, 2015 at 8:39 AM

      Well assuming you could do anything differently, that it could be prevented; It’s worth knowing but it would all depend on the type of cancer. At this point, I’m not sure as to the specificity of the test result either. I know this focused on males and prostate cancer so we’d have to see if they can deduce the type of cancer and how helpful it can be as a preventive measure rather than just an anxiety provoking test.

      The insurance part will definitely be intriguing.. they’re always looking for ways to cash out so hopefully, the researchers and developers of this test are being diligent with the information and its distribution.

      Thanks for stopping by Laura and take care! -Iva

  • GiGi Eats
    May 18, 2015 at 1:24 AM

    I hate tests, but… Sign me up for this one and hopefully I can pass with flying colors! lol!

    • AwesomelyOZ
      May 19, 2015 at 8:40 AM

      Hopefully you do chicka!! 🙂 Yeah I’d sign up too pending further research as to how reliable and valid it is with other populations and females. Lol. 🙂 Have a great one lovely GiGi! -Iva

  • Charlotte
    May 27, 2015 at 8:34 AM

    Woah. This is amazing. I, too, would want to know–anything that could potentially detect cancer so many years early is an asset to the medial community… and many unsuspecting people. Thanks for posting this, and hope all is well with you, Iva! XOXO

    • AwesomelyOZ
      May 27, 2015 at 8:47 AM

      Thank you Charlotte 🙂 Yes I agree this would be a truly great asset, and while the financial and insurance implication is important, I think overall, if this could save lives down the road it’s a tool worth having. Everything else we can work towards improving but you can’t take back a life! You’re welcome gorgeous, glad you enjoyed this 😛 Let me get to your comment below haha

  • Charlotte
    May 27, 2015 at 8:36 AM

    Not sure my last comment went through 🙁 Anyway, I think this is a huge asset to the medical community and to so many unsuspecting people. I would absolutely want to get tested, too. Thanks so much for sharing this!

    • AwesomelyOZ
      May 27, 2015 at 8:48 AM

      Hehe yes gorgeous your comment went through! 🙂 You’re welcome and glad you enjoyed this post Charlotte! Thanks for stopping by! -Iva


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