Researchers from the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Centre discovered a test that can detect small bits of DNA from dying tumor cells released in a sufferer's blood.
It can also distinguish between the DNA from the tumors and other types of DNA that are sometimes mistaken for cancer biomarkers.
The blood test successfully determined a cancer diagnosis in patients who had the primary cancer killers - colon, lung, breast and ovarian. It was able to screen cancer in more than half of the patients in their research.
However, the goal is to be able to detect cancer as soon as possible. Researchers are hopeful they will get there eventually.
"There is a lot of excitement about liquid biopsies, but most of that has been in late-stage cancer or in individuals where you already know what to look for,' lead author Dr Victor Velculescu told the Daily Mail. Adding, "The surprising result is that we can find a high fraction of early-stage patients having alterations in their blood."
This test, researchers believe is the first that could detect the disease in an individual who has never been diagnosed.
Dr Velculescu revealed the challenge is to develop a test that can predict the likely "presence of cancer without knowing the genetic mutations present in a person's tumor".
Now the team need to examine the test on patients with more ambiguous cancers. Identifying the disease at the earliest possible stage is crucial to saving lives.
The study was originally published in Science Transitional Medicine.