When it comes to saving lives from cancer, the earlier the diagnosis, the better. But early diagnosis or identification of certain cancers – including melanoma, colon cancer and lung cancer – is often quite difficult. Now, researchers in the UK have developed a simple blood test that could identify which patients have cancer.
The researchers, from the University of Bradford in the UK, have published their results in The FASEB Journal – the Journal of the Federation of American societies for Experimental Biology.
They say their test could help doctors in ruling out cancer for patients who present with certain symptoms, which could save time and money, and help to avoid unnecessary invasive procedures, including colonoscopies and biopsies. Additionally, the test could help with patients who are suspected of having a cancer that is difficult to diagnose.
The test, called the Lymphocyte Genome Sensitivity (LGS) test, examines white blood cells and measures the damage done to their DNA when blasted with different levels of ultraviolet light (UVA). The team explains this type of light damages DNA.
“White blood cells are part of the body’s natural defense system,” says lead researcher Prof. Diana Anderson, from the university’s School of Life Sciences.
“We know that they are under stress when they are fighting cancer or other diseases, so I wondered whether anything measurable could be seen if we put them under further stress with UVA light,” she adds. “We found that people with cancer have DNA which is more easily damaged by ultraviolet light than other people, so the test shows the sensitivity to damage of all the DNA – the genome – in a cell.”
Overall, the team says their results show a clear difference in the damage to the white blood cells of patients with cancer, patients with pre-cancerous conditions and those who are healthy.
To conduct their study, the researchers analyzed 208 study participants’ blood samples that were coded, anonymized and randomized, and then exposed to UVA light.
“We’re actually looking at white blood cells and we’re challenging them with ultraviolet light,” said Prof. Anderson in an interview, “and this magnifies the response between the different groups that we’re looking at.”
They were able to identify the UVA damage through pieces of DNA being pulled toward the positive end of an electric field, resulting in a “comet-like tail.” In their LGS test, if a tail was longer, it meant there was more DNA damage.
And these measurements correlated to the 58 patients who were eventually diagnosed with cancer, the 56 who were diagnosed with pre-cancerous conditions and the 94 who were healthy.
Prof. Anderson says their results are early and that more research needs to be conducted, but she also adds:
“Whilst the numbers of people we tested are, in epidemiological terms, quite small, in molecular epidemiological terms, the results are powerful. We’ve identified significant differences between the healthy volunteers, suspected cancer patients and confirmed cancer patients of mixed ages at a statistically significant level of P<0.001."
She explains that this means the possibility of their results happening by chance is 1 in 1,000, which means “that this confirms the test’s potential as a diagnostic tool.”
Currently, researchers are conducting a clinical trial at Bradford Royal Infirmary in the UK to determine the effectiveness of the LGS test in accurately predicting which patients with suspected colorectal cancer would – or would not – benefit from a colonoscopy.
“This is just in its early stages,” said Prof. Anderson, “but it shows a lot of promise.”
Medical News Today recently reported that researchers from University College London in the UK are developing a blood test that could predict the likelihood of a woman developing breast cancer.