A potential breakthrough in cancer research is giving people all over the world hope.
British scientists have developed a blood test that can detect cancer in patients before symptoms even start showing.
It's kind of like a smoke detector, but for cancer. Instead of detecting the actual cancerous cells, the test focuses on the changes in your red blood cells that occur when cancer is present.
Researchers at Swansea University Medical studied 300 people, some healthy, some with signs of pre-cancer, and some with esophageal cancer. The test detects mutations in proteins on the surface of red blood cells. In a healthy patient there are an average of five mutations per million blood cells. In cancer patients, however, it can be 50 to 100 mutations per million. The mutations aren't directly related to the development of cancer, but it's considered "collateral damage" in blood cells.
Professor Gareth Jenkins, who led the study, said: "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 its by-product, smoke. This test detects cancer, by detecting the 'smoke' – mutated blood cells. The old adage of no smoke without fire also applies to ''no cancer without mutation'', as mutation is the main driving force for cancer development."
The test would take only a few hours using standard lab equipment, and could help detect rare cancers early on. Esophageal cancer has one of the lowest survival rates just because it is often detected too late. Larger scale studies are still needed to see if this test would work on other cancers that aren't esophageal, but doctors are pleased with the results.
"It would be really difficult to think why it would only affect esophageal cancer," Jenkins said.