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Published on November 21, 2017

Jodi Tolzin

Research: One Blood Test Could Detect Multiple Cancers

Imagine one blood test that could detect that you had cancer before you feel a lump or have symptoms.

Avera Cancer Institute in Sioux Falls – the only site in South Dakota participating in this landmark research – is compiling 10,000 blood samples from patients who are either healthy or recently diagnosed with cancer.

Jodi Tolzin of Lake Preston, S.D., didn’t hesitate even though she won’t directly benefit.

“To be part of a study that could help researchers design a test to diagnose cancer before you’re even showing signs of it — that’s a big deal,” Tolzin said.

Circulating Cell-Free Genome Atlas (CCGA) study, also known as GRAIL after the company conducting the study, is enrolling patients to follow for five years. The long-term goal is to develop a blood test that would detect a variety of types of cancer in the early stages when a cure is possible.

Making it Reality

Tumor cells release small pieces of DNA into the blood called cell-free circulating tumor DNA. Sequencing of this material from the blood sample can help detect the presence of cancer, according to Amy Krie, MD, Breast Oncologist and principal investigator for the study at Avera.

“Imagine going in for your annual wellness exam and having a cost-effective test that could tell you if you had cancer,” Krie said. “That’s an amazing development — particularly for types of cancer that don’t currently have effective screening options or don’t have symptoms until the cancer is more advanced.”

The data compiled from the study will be used to create an atlas of cancer genomics to a better understand tumor biology and develop models to distinguish various cancer mutations from non-cancer mutations. Those who provide blood samples won’t receive any results or findings for themselves.

"That Would Be a Miracle"

Tolzin has a history of cancer in her family, including her mother who was diagnosed at age 39. Tolzin herself has been having yearly mammograms since age 30. She also has a daughter who recently felt a lump in one of her breasts that ended up being benign. These are all things that contributed to her wanting to find an earlier way of detecting cancer.

“I’ve seen so much suffering,” she said. “If you can get ahold of cancer before it gets ahold of you, that would be a miracle.”

If you’re interested in participating in the GRAIL study, call Avera research coordinators to get more information at 605-322-3221 or 605-322-3291.

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