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Simple blood test could be 'smoke detector' for throat cancer

12 September 2016

By Meetal Solanki

Appeared in BioNews 868

A blood test costing only £35 could help in the early diagnosis of oesophageal cancer and could be available in five years' time.

Researchers from Swansea University showcased their research into detecting pre-symptomatic cancer from mutations in red blood cells at the British Science Festival this week.

In a study of 300 people with and without signs of pre-cancer and oesophageal cancer, the researchers detected changes in the proteins on the surface of red blood cells that increased in occurrence when cancer was present.

Professor Gareth Jenkins, the study's lead, explained: '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 detects its by-product – smoke.'

Healthy red blood cells contain glycoproteins (molecules made up of sugars and proteins), which are normally anchored on the surface of the cell. These are often used by cell-surface markers to 'stick' to the cell.

In oesophageal cancer, a mutation causes a loss of these glycoproteins along with the surface markers. Researchers found that through this differentiation they could detect cancer in 80 percent of the patients with the disease.

The results may be good news for people at risk of developing oesophageal cancer, for which invasive procedures such as endoscopy are often used for diagnosis. Early diagnosis could also be the difference between whether a tumour is detected early enough to be surgically removed, or the tumour becoming malignant and spreading throughout the body.

'This could have huge potential, as early diagnosis is a key factor in survival rates,' the researchers said. However, larger studies involving more patients and other cancers would need to confirm their results before clinical use.

The team will now attempt to see if pancreatic cancer can be detected in the same way.


24 April 2017 - by Meghna Kataria 
A blood test could swiftly detect gene mutations found in lung cancer, allowing faster commencement of treatment...
13 March 2017 - by Dr Loredana Guglielmi 
Researchers have developed a new blood test that can not only detect cancer at an early stage, but can also indicate where the tumour is located in the body...
19 December 2016 - by Isobel Steer 
A study has cast doubts on the reliability of 'liquid biopsies' – blood tests that detect tumour mutations and are increasingly used to guide treatment...

21 March 2016 - by Hannah Somers 
Scientists say they have been able to detect multiple diseases, including pancreatic cancer, multiple sclerosis and type 1 diabetes, by analysing fragments of DNA in the bloodstream...
14 March 2016 - by Dr Lucy Freem 
Scientists have developed a blood test that captures tumour DNA from stray cancer cells circulating in the blood and allows them to monitor genetic changes in skin cancer...
15 February 2016 - by Helen Robertson 
A blood test to diagnose common types of cancer is in development after researchers found that five forms of the disease share a telltale chemical signature...
09 November 2015 - by Ayala Ochert 
Scientists say it may be possible to track the progress of cancer – and cancer treatment – in real time from fragments of tumour DNA that are shed into the bloodstream...
14 September 2015 - by Isobel Steer 
A US startup called Pathway Genomics has launched the first commercial 'liquid biopsy' to identify cancerous mutations via a blood test...

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Professor Allan Pacey

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Professor Richard Anderson

Dr Elizabeth Garner

Dr Andy Greenfield

Dr Anna Smajdor

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Dr Helen O'Neill

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