DNA testing 'can predict throat cancer up to eight YEARS' in advance

DNA testing 'can predict throat cancer up to eight YEARS' in advance for patients with pre-cancerous condition that causes acid reflux, study finds Abnormal cells emerge at bottom of oesophagus in Barrett's oesophagus Condition develops into cancer for one-in-five patients after it is diagnosed This leads to extensive treatment in case the cancer does appear But scientists at Cambridge University say they have found a way to predict the risk of developing cancer, meaning many could avoid 'un-necessary' treatment 

By Luke Andrews For Mailonline

Published: 16:20 BST, 7 September 2020 | Updated: 16:23 BST, 7 September 2020

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Throat cancer could be predicted up to eight years before it appears thanks to a statistical model developed by scientists.

When abnormal cells emerge where the oesophagus meets the stomach - in a condition called Barrett's oesophagus - and turn cancerous, it can be monumentally difficult to diagnose and treat.

A small tube with a camera on the end, called an endoscope, must be inserted via the mouth or nose to identify the illness. If considered at risk patients may then receive extensive treatment they 'do not need', as only one in 300 people with the condition will develop cancer. 

But a statistical model built by scientists at the University of Cambridge and European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI) promises to change this.

The scientists sequenced the DNA of 88 Barrett's oesophagus patients and compared it to 777 samples from healthy people, allowing them to identify 'chunks' that had been deleted or repeated several times.

After using this information to build a statistical model they monitored 76 people, and found that they had accurately predicted the emergence of the cancer in two-thirds of patients within two years, and half of patients within eight. 

Scientists at the University of Cambridge and European Bioinformatics Institute have built a statistical model to predict the risk of someone with Barratt's oesophagus developing cancer

Scientists at the University of Cambridge and European Bioinformatics Institute have built a statistical model to predict the risk of someone with Barratt's oesophagus developing cancer

The results mean patients at greater risk can be treated immediately rather than facing regular biopsies until the early signs of cancer are found, the study authors said.

It could also reduce the burden of regular checks on those at lower risk, with monitoring possibly being cut by 50 per cent.

'The benefit of our method is two-fold,' explained Sarah Killcoyne, Postdoctoral fellow at EBI. 'The patients who have high-risk Barrett's, which is likely to become cancerous can receive treatment earlier.

'And individuals who have something that looks genetically stable, and unlikely to develop into the disease, do not need to under go such intense surveillance.

'The hope is that our method can help improve early detection and treatment, and decrease unnecessary treatment for low-risk patients, without compromising patient safety.'

One in five patients develop cancer, but many are subjected to rigorous checks in case it develops. The model promises to help ensure only those most at risk are examined regularly

One in five patients develop cancer, but many are subjected to rigorous checks in case it develops. The model promises to help ensure only those most at risk are examined regularly

What is Barrett's oesophagus?

Barrett's oesophagus is a pre-cancerous condition where the normal cells lining the oesophagus are replaced with abnormal cells.

They start from where the oesophagus meets the stomach and spread upwards.

Causes

It is strongly associated with gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, which can cause a symptom of heartburn.

Approximately one in ten patients experiencing this will develop the condition.

Old age, being male, obesity, smoking, high alcohol intake and a family history of the condition can increase the risk.

Symptoms

The main symptom is a reflux, or regurgitation of food, alongside nausea and pain in the upper abdomen.

Treatment

This depends on whether it has developed into cancer. Charity Guts UK says it is mostly treated through an endoscopy to remove or treat affected parts of the oesophagus.

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