New, affordable blood test detects metastatic cancer

January 10, 2022
New, affordable blood test detects metastatic cancer

Scientists from the University of Oxford, UK, have developed a cheap and simple blood test that can detect the presence of a wide range of cancer types as well as provide an estimate on whether it has metastasised (spread) throughout the patient’s body.

Blood tests for cancer typically look for genetic material from tumorous cells – the new metabolomic blood analysis test, however, relies on a technique called NMR metabolomics which involves the use of magnetic fields and radio waves to measure metabolite levels in the patient’s blood; raw data from the test is then run through an algorithm that distinguishes between these states and offers a diagnosis.

It is the first method to be developed that can determine metastatic cancer from a blood test without previous knowledge of the type of cancer the patient is suffering from.

“Cancer cells have unique metabolomic fingerprints due to their different metabolic processes. We are only now starting to understand how metabolites produced by tumours can be used as biomarkers to accurately detect cancer,” said Dr. James Larkin from the University of Oxford.

The study worked with samples harvested from 300 patients recruited through the Oxfordshire Suspected CANcer (SCAN) Diagnostic Pathway. All participants reported non-specific cancer symptoms, including fatigue and weight loss. The scientists explained that patients with localised cancer, those with metastatic cancer, and healthy individuals all have different metabolite profiles in their blood, and sought to assess whether their test could tell them apart.

Ultimately, the test correctly detected the disease in 19 out of every 20 patients with cancer and identified the metastatic phase of the disease with an overall accuracy of 94%.

Early detection of cancer improves a patient’s chances of a successful outcome, the scientists note. Being rapid and cheap to administer, this test could help improve the overall rate of successful cancer treatments, especially in patients who only show non-specific symptoms (for whom a diagnosis takes longer).

“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 prioritisation of patients based on the additional early information this test provides on their disease,” said Dr. Fay Probert, also from the University of Oxford.

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Category: Education, Features

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