Detect cancer very early? Leipzig is a pilot area for a new test

Leipzig. Some people are expecting nothing less than a revolution in early cancer detection from this test: Since September, the Hansemerkur insurance company and the biotech company Zyagnum have been gradually launching a test that is intended to detect cancer in the early stages.

In addition to Hamburg, Berlin, Munich and Stuttgart, Leipzig is a pilot area for the test. A medical practice in the trade fair city is involved as a blood collection station.

The test is called Pantum-Detect, and the product is called Krebs-Scan. The procedure has been approved since 2017 and is intended to detect cancer and precancerous lesions using certain protein markers in a blood sample. However, it does not provide absolute certainty – and it does not indicate where the tumor is developing.

Pantum-Detect: Test in three stages

The test therefore comprises up to three stages: suspected cases are identified by taking a blood sample. If the findings are abnormal, imaging procedures such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and so-called PET computed tomography (Pet-CT) follow. The necessary dates for this would be scheduled quickly, according to the Hansemerkur.

“And medical care is guaranteed throughout,” says Eberhard Sautter, CEO of the insurance company. “The test can provide an initial suspicion regardless of the type of cancer or the precancerous stage.

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It has a kind of filter function – it is determined who is worth and needs further investigation.” According to the company, the investigation has a specificity of 99.7 percent. That means: 0.3 percent of those tested initially get a false positive result. With one million patients, that would still be 3,000 people. For this reason, further diagnostics are necessary.

New cancer test enables early detection: monthly costs up to 45 euros

The test is aimed at people aged 18 and over. Anyone who has had cancer in the past five years or has been vaccinated in the past two months cannot have it performed. The offer has now entered the pilot phase with soft starts in Hamburg, Berlin, Munich, Stuttgart and Leipzig.

From January it will be rolled out throughout Germany. However, the procedure is currently associated with costs for the patient. The provider recommends performing the test once a year.

For this, people up to the age of 70 have to pay 27 euros per month, after that 45 euros per month. In addition to the annual blood test, the price also includes possible follow-up diagnostics. Hansemerkur boss Sautter expects that one day the statutory funds will take over these costs. But that could take a few more years.

The University Hospital Hamburg-Eppendorf (UKE) examined the quality of the procedure. A significant marker threshold was exceeded in 186 of a good 5000 subjects; in almost 124 people the suspicion of a tumor precursor or an already existing tumor was confirmed in follow-up examinations.

A total of 29 different types of cancer could be detected. According to the authors, the results of the study would indicate that the test could be used as a screening tool and, in combination with PET-CT and MRI, enable the detection of cancer and tumor precursors at a stage in which in many cases there are still good chances of recovery exist.

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“Other preventive programs should not be replaced”

“We now have a program that can be used to detect cancer at an early stage – even in symptom-free phases,” says Hansemerkur boss Sautter, “and that’s quite simply by taking a blood sample.”

With an early diagnosis, the treatment is often less stressful. In some cases, strenuous and expensive chemotherapy and radiotherapy are no longer necessary; sometimes surgical treatment alone is sufficient. By repeating the test every year, cancer and precancerous lesions can be detected before they reach a critical size, says Sautter.

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In addition, tumors could also be detected for which there are currently no established check-ups. These currently only exist for cancer of the breast (mammography screening), prostate (touch examination and PSA values), colon (mirroscopic examination) and skin (check). “But these four only make up 45 percent of new cases each year,” says Sautter, “so far there is no regular early cancer detection for the other 55 percent.” Blood cancers are definitely not recorded.

Could the new test also replace the established procedures in the long term? After all, the examination by taking blood is very simple. Unlike mammography, there is no radiation exposure. Sautter doesn’t want to go that far: “We want to close existing pension gaps, but not replace any of the currently available early detection options. Because when it comes to early detection of cancer, one thing is clear: two are better than one.” No method offers 100% security; the test provides additional protection.

Leipzig expert: Process with potential

For Professor Andreas Dietz, the investigation is an interesting process with potential. Dietz is director of the ear, nose and throat clinic at the University Hospital Leipzig (UKL) and also deputy director of the University Cancer Center (UCCL). “The idea is clever,” says the expert.

The publication by the colleagues from Hamburg-Eppendorf is serious and has already been independently reviewed. “The procedure is particularly exciting for my area of ​​expertise, because the treatment of early-detected tumors in the head and neck area is much gentler.”

“Given the current data situation, I would be cautious at the moment. You first have to see how the whole thing looks in larger collectives.” A further scientific consolidation of the process is needed. Dietz sees the extensive promise of security critically. And: “The study is too commercial for what has so far been a purely scientific character.”

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