This requires a tiny amount of purified DNA to be mixed with some drops of gold particle solution.
The breakthrough could lead to much earlier detection and increase the chance that treatment works because it could be started before traditional symptoms develop.
Using transmission electron microscopy (a high-resolution microscope), we saw that cancerous DNA fragments folded into three-dimensional structures in water.
So, rather than focus on the methylation itself, the researchers in the new study looked at what the methylation did to the overall structure and chemical properties of the cancer DNA. A test that detects one cancer may not work on another.
In experiments, the test distinguished tumors from healthy cells with up to 90 percent accuracy.
Now doctors use symptoms and a raft of tests and biopsies to determine if cancer is present which can sometimes take months.
The new method looks for differences in the genetic code of cancerous and healthy cells, the newspaper said.
This alters how DNA can be read, switching genes on or off.
Dr Sina said it had been hard to find a simple signature that was distinct from healthy cells and common to all cancers. Among the cancer cells they noted that the methyl groups are in clusters at specific regions.
But it is the latest step as scientists compete to find blood tests which can diagnose cancer and spare people painful biopsies to remove parts of their organs or skin and check the tissue for tumours. They are instructions that control the expressions of the genes.
Researchers have always been looking for a commonality among cancers to develop a diagnostic tool that could apply across all types. The researchers found the signature in multiple types of breast cancer as well as in prostate and colorectal cancer, and lymphoma.
And so, Sina and colleagues compared the epigenetic patterns on the genomes of cancer cells to those of healthy cells, specifically focusing on patterns of methyl groups.
They add that the team is developing the test so that it could be used for screening of cancers especially in early stages.
"That absolutely stunned us", Professor Trau said. "You can detect it by eye, it's as simple as that".
"This led to the creation of low-cost and portable detection devices that could eventually be used as a diagnostic tool, possibly with a mobile phone", said Professor Matt Trau, one of the lead researchers on the project.
One possibility, still in development, is a liquid biopsy, testing for circulating cancer DNA in the blood.
"This new discovery could be a game-changer in the field of point of care cancer diagnostics". "It's not flawless yet, but it's a promising start".