Health

May 18, 2024

New blood test may detect 19 cancers 7 years before symptoms show

New blood test may detect 19 cancers 7 years before symptoms show

By Sola Ogundipe

A blood test detecting signs of 19 cancers seven years before symptoms show could revolutionize cancer screening. Researchers at Oxford University identified proteins in the blood linked to various cancers, including some found up to seven years before diagnosis.

Early detection is crucial for better cancer outcomes, and this test has the potential to significantly improve survival rates.

Two cancer researchers expressed optimism about the potential for preventing cancer through targeted drugs, thanks to new research findings. This research could pave the way for preventative therapies, offering a significant step forward in the fight against cancer.

Dr Iain Foulkes, the Executive Director of Research and Innovation at Cancer Research UK, which funded the studies, noted: “Preventing cancer means looking out for the earliest warning signs of the disease. That means intensive, painstaking research to find the molecular signals we should pay closest attention to.

“Discoveries from this research are the crucial first step towards offering preventative therapies which is the ultimate route for giving people longer, better lives, free from the fear of cancer.”

Dr Karl Smith-Byrne, a senior molecular epidemiologist at Oxford Population Health, added: “This research brings us closer to being able to prevent cancer with targeted drugs – once thought impossible but now much more attainable.”

In the view of Professor Ruth Travis, a senior molecular epidemiologist at Oxford Population Health: “These studies are important because they provide many new clues about the causes and biology of multiple cancers, including insights into what’s happening years before a cancer is diagnosed.

“We now have technology that can look at thousands of proteins across thousands of cancer cases, identifying which proteins have a role in the development of specific cancers, and which might have effects that are common to multiple cancer types.”

Under the first study, researchers analysed blood samples of more than 44,000 Britons including 4,900 who were later diagnosed with cancer.  The team used proteomics — the study of proteins to help learn how cancer develops and spreads — to analyse 1,463 proteins from a single sample of blood from each person.

They then compared how these differed between Brits who were later diagnosed with cancer and those who were not, identifying which may be linked to the disease.

Hundreds of thousands are diagnosed with cancer each year, with prostate, breast, bowel and lung the most common types. Scientists found 182 proteins that differed in the blood three years before a cancer diagnosis.

In the second study, researchers looked at genetic data from more than 300,000 cancer cases to analyse which blood proteins were involved in cancer development and could be targeted by new treatments.

Forty proteins in the blood were found to influence someone’s risk of getting nine different types of cancer: bladder, breast, endometrium, head and neck, lung, ovary, pancreas, kidney and malignant non-melanoma.

Writing in the journal, Nature Communications, they noted, however, that while altering these proteins may increase or decrease the chances of someone developing cancer, in some cases it may lead to unintended side-effects.

Further research is vital to uncover which are the most reliable ones to test for, what tests could be developed to detect the proteins in a clinic, and which drugs could.