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New Blood Test Designed To Detect Cancers Before There Are Symptoms

MIAMI (CBS) - A new type of blood test could become the next frontier in cancer screening. It's known as a liquid biopsy, designed to detect dozens of cancers before there are signs of disease.

Joyce Ares thought she was a healthy 74-year-old when she volunteered to give a blood sample for research. What happened next was a shock.

"I got a call that said, 'We're finding something here and we want to look at a little bit more,'" she said.

Ares was participating in a test known as a liquid biopsy. Researchers in Portland, Oregon, screened people with no signs of cancer as a method of early detection. After being called back for further tests, Ares was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma.

The tests work by checking for DNA fragments from tumor cells. The question is whether this sort of screening can cut the nation's death rate from cancer.

Government researchers are planning a large experiment with as many as 200,000 participants to see whether blood tests can save lives.

"Once we get to the point where this trial is up and running, we'll need many Americans to sign up and participate," said Dr. Lori Minasian from the National Cancer Institute.

Grail is one of the companies making the blood tests and marketing them to adults at higher risk for cancer.

"If we can find these cancers at earlier stages, before people have symptoms, they're offered many more options for effective treatment, and they're often curable," says Grail's Dr. Joshua Ofman.

The concern is that screenings sometimes do more harm than good, bringing false positives and unnecessary costs. But for Ares, the early diagnosis means treatment is already behind her. Reading from one of her recent birthday cards, she said, "I'm 75 and very much alive. That's a good one. I'm alive and I'm going to stay alive for a while."

The White House has announced a goal of cutting the cancer death rate in half over the next 25 years.

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