The work, reported in the journal Science, could one day lead to a tool for routinely screening people and catching tumours when chances are best for a cure.
Researchers, led by Nickolas Papadopoulos, Bert Vogelstein, and others at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, sequenced parts of just 16 genes often mutated in different types of cancer. They then added eight known protein biomarkers characteristic of specific kinds of cancer.
In blood samples from 1,005 patients with eight types of tumours that had evidently not yet metastasised, the test detected between 33% and 98% of cases, depending on the tumour type. The sensitivity was 69% or higher for ovarian, liver, stomach, pancreatic, and oesophagal cancers - all types that are difficult to detect early.