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A publication by University of Oxford researchers describes a new minimally invasive and inexpensive blood test that can identify cancer in patients with non-specific symptoms. The early success of this technology makes it the first blood-based test that not only detects cancer in this population but can simultaneously identify if a cancer has spread.

Test tubes on a conveyor belt © James Larkin

A University of Oxford study, published today in Clinical Cancer Research, outlines a new type of blood test that can be used to detect a range of cancers and whether these cancers have spread (metastasised) in the body. The study analysed samples from 300 patients with non-specific but concerning symptoms of cancer, such as fatigue and weight loss, who were recruited through the Oxfordshire Suspected CANcer (SCAN) pathway.

The researchers assessed whether the test could distinguish patients with a range of solid tumours from those without cancer. Their results show that cancer was correctly detected in 19 out of every 20 patients with cancer using this test. In those with cancer, metastatic disease was identified with an overall accuracy of 94%. These results make this the first technology to be able to determine the metastatic status of a cancer from a simple blood test, without prior knowledge of the primary cancer type.

This test shows promise to help clinicians detect cancer and assess cancer stage in the future. Unlike many blood-based tests for cancer, which detect genetic material from tumours, this test uses a technique called NMR metabolomics, which uses high magnetic fields and radio waves to profile levels of natural chemicals (metabolites) in the blood. Healthy individuals, people with localised cancer, and people with metastatic cancer each have different profiles of blood metabolites, which can be detected and then analysed by the researchers’ algorithms to distinguish between these states.

Read the full story on the Oxford Cancer website.

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