Over-the-Counter Tests Use Gold to Screen for Cancer

An affordable and easy-to-use new kit can screen for lung, prostate, colon, and up to seven other types of cancer—and it may soon be available over-the-counter at your local pharmacy.

Cancer comes in many forms, and nearly all are treatable when caught in time. The problem is, most people who have cancer don’t seek medical attention early enough to get the help they need. They may feel under the weather for days, weeks, or even months before they consider calling their physicians, dreading the thought of x-rays, bloodwork, and a barrage of other tests. And for the growing percentage of uninsured and underinsured individuals in America, seeking medical attention is simply not an option, unless they’re already positive that there’s a serious problem. In many cases, by the time a sick uninsured person visits a doctor to obtain a cancer diagnosis, it’s already too late to remove the tumors.

With any luck, health care reform will soon make it easier for all Americans to receive affordable preventative and diagnostic care—but as far as cancer is concerned, a new development from the University of Central Florida could help ensure that more people will be able to receive a cancer diagnosis in time to effectively treat the disease.

The UCF scientists have developed a simple new DIY testing kit that can screen for lung, prostate, colon, and up to seven other types of cancer, which will be available over-the-counter at your local pharmacy, likely within the next two years. The tests use a single drop of blood for screening, and take just several minutes to provide results. Though they can’t definitively provide a cancer diagnosis, they can serve as an ideal first step for people who are worried that they may be ill, but are not prepared to visit their doctors for intensive testing.

“If people are willing to do more screening, then they can catch any unusual changes due to cancer sooner, and the survival rates should increase,” one of the test’s developers, scientist Qun Huo, said at a recent conference.

The new test is faster and cheaper than existing screening tests, and uses small gold nanoparticles to detect chemical changes in the blood. When the nanoparticles detect potentially cancerous chemicals in the blood, the test alerts the patient. Though cancer may not always be present in such cases, the screening test can verify that a visit to the doctor is definitely in order.

Though doctors generally prefer to supervise all medical testing themselves, many physicians are optimistic about giving patients some control with this new advance screening system.

“This test could certainly come in handy,” Cheryl Baker, a doctor at M. D. Anderson Cancer Center Orlando told Discovery News. “If you pick up rising biomarker levels, then we can start treatment and increase the survival rate. Hopefully this will help separate a cancer diagnosis from a death sentence.”

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