Gastrointestinal Cancers Symposium

Gastrointestinal Cancers Symposium

January 24, 2020
4 min read

Blood test could lead to earlier detection of gastrointestinal cancers

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An investigational blood-based assay demonstrated efficacy in detecting multiple types of cancer, including gastrointestinal cancers, at various stages, according to study results presented at Gastrointestinal Cancers Symposium.

The test, which is based on DNA methylation, also achieved accurate (92%) localization of cancers to specific areas of the gastrointestinal tract.

“The potential of this test is to diagnose cancer earlier, when it is more treatable,” Brian M. Wolpin, MD, MPH, director of the Gastrointestinal Cancer Center and Hale Family Center for Pancreatic Cancer Research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, said in a press release. “The ability to do that across cancer types could be quite valuable. Many of the cancer types that this test detects do not currently have screening tests that allow earlier cancer detection before the cancers cause symptoms.”

The prospective, multicenter, observational, case-control Circulating Cell-free Genome Atlas study — funded by the manufacturer of the assay, Grail Inc. — included 273 cancer-free participants and 654 patients with more than 20 tumor types at all stages, including esophageal/stomach (n = 67), pancreatic/gallbladder/extrahepatic bile duct (n = 95), liver/intrahepatic bile duct (n = 29) and colon/rectal (n = 121) cancers.

Wolpin and colleagues used a cross-validated targeted methylation sequencing assay to assess plasma cell-free DNA (cfDNA). They combined methylation fragments across targeted genomic areas and designated a relative probability of cancer, as well as specific tissue of origin.

Photo of blood test tubes 
Researchers reported sensitivity for the blood-based assay of 72% for stage I to III disease and 96% for stage IV disease.
Source: Adobe

At a specificity of greater than 99%, the blood-based assay demonstrated overall sensitivity of 82% (95% CI, 77-86) for all gastrointestinal cancer types. Researchers reported sensitivity of 72% for stage I to III disease and 96% for stage IV disease.

The test showed accuracy for predicted tissue of origin of 92% (95% CI, 88-95) for all gastrointestinal cancers. Specifically, the assay demonstrated predicted tissue of origin accuracy of 87% for esophageal/stomach cancers (86% stage I to stage III; 89% stage IV), 92% for pancreatic/gallbladder/extrahepatic bile duct cancers (94% stage I-III; 91% stage IV), 78% for liver/intrahepatic bile duct cancers (85% stage I-III 70% stage IV); and 98% for colon/rectal cancers (96% stage I-III; 100% stage IV).

Researchers seek to further validate the test’s screening potential in two large population-based studies: STRIVE, which has enrolled almost 100,000 women receiving screening mammograms, and SUMMIT, which will include 50,000 men and women with no known cancer diagnosis.

“The data show that evaluating methylation of cell-free DNA within a blood sample may detect a variety of gastrointestinal cancers with good sensitivity and with a low rate of false positives. If further validated with additional testing, this approach has the potential to allow us to diagnose gastrointestinal cancers earlier, when they are more treatable,” Wolpin said in the release. – by Jennifer Southall


Wolpin BM, et al. Abstract 283. Presented at: Gastrointestinal Cancers Symposium; Jan. 23-25, 2020; San Francisco.

Disclosures: Wolpin reports consultant/advisory roles with BioLineRx, Celgene, G1 Therapeutics, Genentech and Grail Inc.; honoraria from Celgene and G1 Therapeutics; and research funding from Celgene and Eli Lilly. Please see the abstract for all other authors’ relevant financial disclosures.