By: 10 July 2015
Pre-natal blood test leads to cancer diagnosis in three women

Pre-natal blood test leads to cancer diagnosis in three women

Belgium-based researchers find cancer signs in three pregnant women during blood tests.

Researchers in Belgium trying to improve a blood test used to spot fetal disorders have found unexpected signs of cancer in three of the 4000 pregnant women in their study.

Nathalie Brison and co-workers at the Centre for Human Genetics in Leuven, Belgium, set out to improve the accuracy of non-invasive pre-natal testing (NIPT), which looks for changes in fetal DNA that could diagnose conditions such as Down’s syndrome before birth. NIPT is not generally available on the NHS.

“Even though [NIPT] is very reliable, we believed that we could make it even better,” said Brison. A key challenge for the researchers was to try to test for a wider range of genetic abnormalities.

Using their experimental test in more than 4000 women, the team identified abnormalities in three of them that could not be linked to either the mother or her fetus. Further analysis revealed DNA changes that bore a resemblance to those found in cancer, and the women were referred to oncology for futher screening.

After whole body MRI scanning and subsequent tissue analysis, the three women were diagnosed with ovarian cancer, a follicular lymphoma, and a Hodgkin lymphoma.

Jacqui Shaw, a Cancer Research expert in tumour DNA analysis, commented: “These important findings highlight the growing evidence that a cancer’s abnormal DNA may be present in a person’s blood, and that this could be used to help diagnose, track and the disease. This includes detecting an undiagnosed cancer during pregnancy, allowing for treatment during pregnancy.

“But larger studies will be needed to confirm these ‘proof of concept’ findings, and ensure this type of analysis is accurate before it could be tested in clinical trials.”