A simple blood test that can detect cancer before any symptoms are noticeable
A simple blood test that can detect cancer before any symptoms are noticeable has been developed by researchers.
The scientists, who unveiled the test at the British science festival in Swansea, compared the new test to a smoke detector, because it does not actually find cancer but changes to red blood cells that occur when cancer is present.
Discovering cancer early is a key factor in successful treatment. If a tumour is caught in a single part of the body, there is a much better chance that it can be removed surgically. If the cancer has spread to other organs, the chance the patient will die is much higher. Because it is a simple blood test costing just £35, it could be used to monitor people with a high risk of getting the disease.
Professor Gareth Jenkins, who led the study, said: “The test can be likened to a ‘cancer smoke detector’ because a smoke detector does not detect the presence of fire in our homes but its by-product – smoke… This test detects cancer, by detecting the ‘smoke’ – mutated blood cells.
The researchers, from Swansea University Medical School, said the test could detect cancer before there are any noticeable symptoms.
The researchers worked on developing the test over the past four years, studying 300 healthy people, patients with signs of pre-cancer and patients with the oesophageal form of the disease.
The test detects mutations in proteins on the surface of red blood cells. In healthy people, the number of mutations of this type averages about five per million, but in cancer patients there can be 50 to 100 mutants per million. These mutations do not have a role in the development of cancer, with the researchers describing the effect as “collateral damage” caused by the disease. Asked how significant the test would be if it worked for all cancers, he said: “With any cancer, if it is caught early enough and surgically removed, that is the biggest impact on the outcome of a cancer diagnosis.