A new study reveals that a type of noninvasive DNA test of the fetus can detect cancer that the mother might have in its early stages. The test basically analyzes the fetus’s DNA, which is found in the mother’s blood.
At the beginning, the researchers wanted to come up with a way to make the noninvasive prenatal testing used to determine if the baby has Down Syndrome more accurate, as they were hoping it would detect more chromosomal abnormalities in the fetuses who had them.
However, they were surprised to find abnormalities that could not be linked to the genetic materials of the mothers or the fetuses. It was then when they saw that the abnormalities were very similar to those found in cancer.
This was the case for three women out of the 6,000 tested, whom the researchers asked to see oncologists. Surprisingly enough, the women found out they were each suffering from different types of cancer: follicular lymphoma, ovarian cancer and Hodkin’s lymphoma. The woman who tested positive for follicular lymphoma had inactive cancer, so she didn’t undergo any treatment. The other two were treated with chemotherapy.
All these forms of cancer were detected in their early stages. The researchers said that the testing was incredibly useful because it gave the women a chance to detect it before the cancer developed too much. If they hadn’t been tested, they would have probably found out they suffered from cancer much later.
“Considering the bad prognosis of some cancers when detected later, and given that we know that it is both possible and safe to treat the disease during pregnancy, this is an important added advantage of NIPT (noninvasive prenatal testing) ,” said lead study author Joris Vermeesch, who is the chief of the Laboratory for Cytogenetics and Genome Research at Leuven University, Belgium.
It is an important step forward, not only because it can enable the detection of cancer in its early stages, but also because some pregnancy symptoms can coincide with symptoms present in certain tumors. These include exhaustion, abdominal pain, nausea or vaginal blood loss.
This new type of testing can be developed and used not only with pregnant women but also with others who are suspected of having various types of tumors.
The results of the study are to be published in the journal JAMA Oncology, after they have been presented during the meeting of the European Society of Human Genetics, held every year in Glasgow, Scotland, on Saturday, the 13th of June.
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