According to Troyer, “"We see this as the first step into a new arena of investigation that could eventually lead to improved early detection of human cancers. Right now the people who could benefit the most are those classified as at-risk for cancer, such as heavy smokers and people who have a family history of cancer. The idea is these at-risk groups could go to their physician's office quarterly or once a year, take an easy-to-do, noninvasive test, and be told early on whether cancer has possibly developed."
With the exception of breast cancer, most kinds of cancer can be categorized in four stages according to tumor growth and spread of cancer cells throughout the body. Breast and lung cancer are usually found and diagnosed in stage 2, the earliest stage where symptoms such as pain, fatigue, and coughing appear. Numerous studies demonstrate that the earlier cancer is found, the better a person’s chance of fighting the disease.
According to Bossman, "The problem, though, is that nobody knows they're in stage 1. There is often not a red flag to warn that something is wrong. Meanwhile, the person is losing critical time."
The test works by detecting an increased level of enzyme activity in the body. Iron nanoparticles coated with a dye and amino acids are introduced in small doses of blood and urine from a patient. The dye and amino acids then interact with enzymes in the patient urine or blood sample. Each type of cancer has a signature enzyme pattern that can be identified by doctors.
Bossman claims, "These enzyme patterns can also help distinguish between cancer and an infection or other diseases that commonly occur in the human body. For example, a person who smokes a lot of cigars may develop an inflammation in their lungs. That will drive up some of the markers in the test but not all of them. Doctors will be able to see whether there was too much smoke inhalation or if there is something more serious going on. False-positives are something that we really want to avoid."
According to researchers, besides early detection, the test can be tweaked to monitor cancer. For patients being treated with drugs, the test can monitor the effectiveness of the treatment. Additionally, doctors can use the dye in the test to determine whether a tumor has been completely excised from a patient following surgery.