Oxford cancer blood test detects tumors and metastasis early
Cancer treatments have better outcomes if the disease is caught early, but unfortunately symptoms often don’t present until later. A new Oxford study demonstrates an experimental blood test that shows promise in detecting a variety of cancers in patients, and even whether or not they’ve spread.
Being able to go into a doctor’s office for a routine blood test to check for cancer would save countless lives, so of course the idea has attracted much scientific study. Different tests have searched for different biomarkers associated with cancer, such as elevated levels of certain proteins, DNA mutations, RNA profiles of blood platelets, damage to white blood cells, or DNA methylation patterns.
The new Oxford test takes a different tack, instead hunting for blood metabolites, small molecules that are produced as a result of metabolic processes. These can be detected using a technique called nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) metabolomics, which examines blood samples using magnetic fields and radio waves.
Healthy people, people with cancer and people with metastatic cancer will all have different profiles of blood metabolites, and the team’s algorithms can determine which profile a patient’s sample fits. Best of all, the test isn’t specific to any one type of cancer.
“Cancer cells have unique metabolomic fingerprints due to their different metabolic processes,” says Dr. James Larkin, an author of the study. “We are only now starting to understand how metabolites produced by tumors can be used as biomarkers to accurately detect cancer. We have already demonstrated that this technology can successfully identify if patients with multiple sclerosis are progressing to the later stages of disease, even before trained clinicians could tell. It is very exciting that the same technology is now showing promise in other diseases, like cancer.”
To analyze how well the test performed, the researchers used it to study samples from 300 patients with non-specific symptoms that can be associated with cancer, such as fatigue or weight loss. The patients were recruited through the Oxfordshire Suspected Cancer (SCAN) pathway.
The team reports that the test was able to detect cancer correctly in 19 out of every 20 patients with the disease, and could identify if it had already metastasized in 94 percent of cases. This makes it the first blood test to be able to detect metastasis even before the primary cancer type is identified.
The study marks a major step towards an early detection, universal cancer blood test, but further studies using larger groups of patients will be conducted first.
“This work describes a new way of identifying cancer,” says Dr. fay Probert, lead researcher on the study. “The goal is to produce a test for cancer that any GP can request. We envisage that metabolomic analysis of the blood will allow accurate, timely and cost-effective triaging of patients with suspected cancer, and could allow better prioritization of patients based on the additional early information this test provides on their disease.”
The research was published in the journal Clinical Cancer Research.
Source: Oxford University