PATIENTS with suspected cancer could be given a simple blood test to diagnose the illness following a major breakthrough by world-leading scientists in Yorkshire.
The discovery could transform care by allowing doctors to identify people with hard-to-diagnose cancers and fast-track them for vital earlier treatment.
Clinicians will also be able to rule out the disease in patients with suspicious symptoms, saving time and preventing costly and unnecessary hospital procedures using the test, which has been developed by researchers at Bradford University and is being trialled at Bradford Royal Infirmary.
Early results have been hailed by the research team as “remarkable” after revealing the test is highly accurate in diagnosing cancer and pre-cancerous conditions in the blood of patients with melanoma, colon cancer and lung cancer.
The Lymphocyte Genome Sensitivity (LGS) test looks at white blood cells and measures the damage caused to their DNA when samples are subjected to ultraviolet light (UVA). Laboratory studies in Bradford reveal a clear distinction between the damage to white blood cells from patients with cancer, pre-cancerous conditions and in healthy people.
Prof Diana Anderson, of the university’s School of Life Sciences, who has led the research, said: “White blood cells are part of the body’s natural defence system.
“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.
“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.”
A study published online today in the US journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology looked at blood samples from 94 healthy staff and students at Bradford University and from patients referred to clinics at Bradford Royal Infirmary prior to diagnosis and treatment.
All were exposed to UVA light with results showing different damage correlating to 58 of those ultimately diagnosed with cancer, 56 with pre-cancerous conditions and 94 who were healthy.
Prof Anderson said the test showed a “lot of promise”.
“These are early results completed on three different types of cancer and we accept that more research needs to be done but these results so far are remarkable,” she added.
She said if the LGS proved to be a useful test it would be a “highly valuable” addition to traditional investigative procedures for detecting cancer which include uncomfortable colonoscopy examinations and tissue biopsies.
A clinical trial is currently underway at the infirmary to investigate the effectiveness of the test in correctly predicting which patients referred by their GPs with suspected colorectal cancer would, or would not, benefit from a colonoscopy which is used to investigate the condition.
It would not be the first time Bradford Royal Infirmary has been linked to a major cancer breakthrough after key work was carried out there in the 1950s to test the use of chemotherapy which has since become standard treatment worldwide.
Bradford University has filed patents for the new technology and a spin-out company Oncascan has been set up to commercialise the research.