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For the first time, doctors have used the results of a liquid biopsy test to detect and treat cancer in otherwise healthy people, according to a study unveiled this week in a leading journal and at a major oncology meeting. The data are a boon for proponents of liquid biopsy technology, and especially for the company commercializing one such test, Thrive Earlier Detection. But some outside experts caution that the tests still need more work to live up to their promise.

The new data show that the test successfully helped doctors at Geisinger Health System diagnose and treat some types of cancers that don’t currently have screening tests, like uterine and thyroid cancer, before people started reporting symptoms. As a result, it doubled the rate of cancers detected by screening rather than by patients reporting worrying symptoms. Normal, standard practice cancer screenings detected about 25% of the cases of cancer among study participants; when Thrive’s blood test was incorporated, too, that detection rate rose to 52.1%. The study is the first time liquid biopsies have been used with the explicit goal of guiding people’s medical care.

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