Cancer Breakthrough: Blood Test Detects ‘Cancer Symptoms’ 10 Years Before they Begin

cancer diagnosis
Disease Research

Researchers at Swansea University in the United Kingdom have found that mutations often occur in red blood cells before any symptoms of cancer appear. These mutations can occur as many as 10 years before actual symptoms appear, making the test what scientists call a “smoke alarm” for cancer. They state that early detection of cancer is key for survival. [1]

So far, trials for the blood test have only taken place for those suffering from cancer of the esophagus, however, the team is confident that they can use this method to detect other types of cancers as well. They will shortly begin a trial to look at whether this same pattern can be repeated with pancreatic cancer. As of now, study authors don’t see why it would be limited to one type of cancer.

The team chose to focus on cancer of the esophagus because of its grim survival rate. This is often because it does not present symptoms before it becomes aggressive, and thus is diagnosed relatively late. Most people who are diagnosed with this type of cancer only live for 12 months, with 15% of those diagnosed living for 5 years. [2]

Scientists say that this new test will allow patients to take somewhat of preemptive action before the cancer shows up in the body, eliminating the cancer and thus the need for extensive treatment. The test, which is done with a finger prick, only costs £35 to perform.

In the long run, this would save the NHS, or National Health Service in the United Kingdom, quite a bit of money that would otherwise go toward expensive chemotherapy and radiation. As such, those in the United States would benefit from not having to pay for the treatment themselves or fight with insurance companies.

Related: Future Blood Test Could Detect 5 Of The Deadliest Cancers

The team hopes that this test, which takes only a few hours in a laboratory to complete, will soon be used in all annual GP visits. This way, cancer can be detected swiftly and early.

Dr Áine McCarthy, Cancer Research UK’s senior science information officer, stated:

“Finding new ways to detect cancer early – especially cancers that are hard to treat like oesophageal cancer – is vital to improve survival.

That’s why studies like this, which used blood samples to detect background DNA damage as a sign of cancer, are exciting because they could lead to more oesophageal cancers being diagnosed in the early stages.

But larger scale studies are needed to confirm the results and show the test is reliable before it can be used in the clinic.”


[1] The Daily Mail

[2] The Telegraph