Cancer breakthrough: New blood test may detect cancer earlier and more accurately

Lisa Maffia discusses her 'cervical cancer' diagnosis

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A new blood test could speed up the process of diagnosing head and mouth cancers. Research on a new diagnostic tool published in Clinical Cancer Research boasts improved accuracy, lower costs and quicker results. The incidence of these cancers has been rising for years, which the researchers cite as the reason for improved and faster testing. The new testing method is also less invasive, using a blood test rather than a tissue biopsy.

The test builds on research for other types of cancer, that look for signs of the tumour in the bloodstream.

The field of “liquid biopsy” examines for signs of cancer in blood and other fluids, where fragments of cancer DNA can be found.

This less invasive testing process allows for testing over the duration of a cancer’s treatment, without causing further harm to the patient.

Doctor Ryan Corcoran, Associate Professor of medicine at Harvard, described to the New England Journal of Medicine that this process can give a better understanding of how a cancer responds to treatment as well as avoiding errors that can occur from examining only one part of a tumour.

In the case of head and neck cancers, the blood test also examines for common strains of HPV.

These viruses are sexually transmitted, and the method of transmission can affect the type of cancer that occurs.

Alongside causing cancer in the head and neck they can also producing genital, anal and cervical cancers.

Two specific strains of HPV, labelled HPV 16 and HPV 18 are responsible for the majority of HPV cancer cases.

According to, nearly all sexually active people are infected with HPV at some point.

Only around half of these are high risk HPVs capable of causing cancer.

The others are not able to cause disease but might cause warts or skin irritation.

The NIH lists several methods for preventing the spread of HPV.

HPV vaccines are available to young people aged 12-13, with a boost dose offered a year later.

These vaccines are given in youth as this increases the efficacy of the protection it offers.

Other prevention methods include using condoms and regular testing.

The NIH says that HPV vaccines are able to prevent most cases of cervical, vaginal, vulvar and anal cancer.

There are other factors besides HPV that can increase your risk of developing head and neck cancer.

Tobacco and alcohol are two of the biggest risk factors, according to

Sunlight exposure has been linked to lip cancer, as well as skin cancer on the head and neck which is more common among bald people.

Oral and dental hygiene, alongside poor nutrition may also increase your risk.

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