A smoke de­tec­tor for can­cer

> A new test can spot mu­tated cells be­fore symp­toms are no­tice­able

The Sun (Malaysia) - - FEATURE - BY IAN JOHN­STON

ASIMPLE blood test that can de­tect can­cer be­fore any symp­toms are no­tice­able has been de­vel­oped by re­searchers in a break­through that could save thou­sands of lives.

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 seeks out mu­ta­tions to red blood cells, which oc­curs if 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. But if it has spread to other or­gans, the chance the pa­tient will die is much higher.

Be­cause it is a sim­ple blood test, it could be used to mon­i­tor those at high risk of get­ting the dis­ease. The test takes a few hours with stan­dard lab­o­ra­tory equip­ment.

Prof 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 old adage of no smoke with­out fire also ap­plies to ‘no can­cer with­out mu­ta­tion’, as mu­ta­tion is the main driv­ing force for can­cer devel­op­ment.”

The re­searchers, from Swansea Univer­sity Med­i­cal School, said the test could de­tect can­cer be­fore there are any no­tice­able symp­toms.

“This could have huge po­ten­tial, as early di­ag­no­sis is a key fac­tor in sur­vival rates,” a state­ment is­sued about the re­search said.

The re­searchers worked on de­vel­op­ing the test over the past four years, study­ing 300 healthy peo­ple, pa­tients with signs of pre­can­cer 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 mu­ta­tions 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.

“The ben­e­fit of the blood cell mu­ta­tion is that it can be mon­i­tored in a sim­ple, ef­fi­cient, and non-in­va­sive way,” the state­ment said.

Jenk­ins said one of the rea­sons why oe­sophageal can­cer was so deadly was that it was of­ten di­ag­nosed late. The av­er­age pa­tient lives for about a year af­ter di­ag­no­sis, and just 15% live for five years.

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 you can have on the out­come of a can­cer di­ag­no­sis. I would think it would have a mas­sive ef­fect.”

They are now be­gin­ning re­search to see if pan­cre­atic can­cers can be de­tected in the same way, and seek­ing fund­ing to en­able fur­ther work to be done.

Jenk­ins said they needed to find ev­i­dence that it would work for other can­cers, but added it would be hard to imag­ine that it would not.

Dr Áine McCarthy, Can­cer Re­search UK’s se­nior science in­for­ma­tion of­fi­cer, said: “Find­ing new ways to de­tect can­cer early – es­pe­cially can­cers that are hard to treat, like oe­sophageal can­cer – is vi­tal to im­prove sur­vival.

“That’s why stud­ies like this, which used blood sam­ples to de­tect back­ground DNA dam­age as a sign of can­cer, are ex­cit­ing be­cause they could lead to more oe­sophageal can­cers be­ing di­ag­nosed in the early stages.

“But larger scale stud­ies are needed to con­firm the re­sults and show the test is re­li­able be­fore it can be used in the clinic.” – The In­de­pen­dent

(left) Re­searchers have de­vel­oped a blood test that helps de­tect the pres­ence of can­cer in the body by search­ing for mu­tated red blood cells (be­low).

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