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DNA of healthy and cancerous cells in different ways attached to the metal base.

The team found that the DNA of cancer cells sticks strongly to nanoparticles of gold giving a quick indication whether disease is present or not to the naked eye. In cancer cells, however, this particular pattern is being hijacked, and only the genes that help cancer grows are switched on. They further claimed that this test is likely to make cancer diagnosis more accessible and affordable.

Sharing their discovery in the journal Nature Communications, the researchers described numerous tests that confirmed the telltale pattern of methyl groups in breast, prostate and colorectal cancer as well as lymphoma.

The new study focused on the "epigenome", or chemical modifications to DNA that turn genes "on" or "off". Mr Eccles of Otago University suggested thinking of DNA as beads on a string when visualising how the test works.

This has the potential to be used as an early cancer detection test, what is often called a liquid biopsy, and if the research pans out, could open up new pathways for universal cancer treatments.

Normal DNA has a large number of methyl "marks" in the affected cells of such "labels" are very small and are located at specific sites.

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He also cautioned that the test's 90 per cent success rate involved only 200 blood and tissue samples, so a much larger clinical trial will be needed to determine whether that success rate holds up.

"We certainly don't know yet whether it's the holy grail for all cancer diagnostics, but it looks really interesting as an incredibly simple universal marker of cancer, and as an accessible and affordable technology that doesn't require complicated lab-based equipment like DNA sequencing", Trau said.

Physicians believe that their method can be used to test for cancer using a mobile phone.

Less invasive diagnostic procedures such as this with potential to spot cancer earlier could transform how patients are screened for cancer. Trau, M. (2018). Epigenetically reprogrammed methylation landscape drives the DNA self-assembly and serves as a universal cancer biomarker. "This could be done in conjunction with other tests and the combined information may give us a lot of ideas of where the cancer is and the stage".

Cancer blood tests became possible after scientists realised the importance of DNA released when cancer cells die, which is carried in the bloodstream. This seemingly simple question could be answered by a simple test that looks for just one DNA signature, an epigenetic pattern that emerges in every cancer.