New blood test to detect a range of cancers

A new minimally invasive and inexpensive blood test.


Scientists from the University of Oxford have developed a new blood test that can detect a range of cancers and whether these cancers have spread (metastasized) in the body. It can help clinicians detect cancer and assess cancer stages in the future.

The 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.

For the study, scientists analyzed samples from 300 patients with nonspecific but concerning cancer symptoms. These patients were recruited through the Oxfordshire Suspected CANcer (SCAN) pathway.

They determined whether the test could distinguish patients with a range of solid tumors from those without cancer. Their results show that cancer was correctly detected in 19 out of every 20 patients with cancer using this test.

The test could determine metastatic disease with an overall accuracy of 94%. These results make this the first technology to determine the metastatic status of cancer from a simple blood test.

Dr. James Larkin, researcher on the study from the University of Oxford, says: Cancer cells have unique metabolomic fingerprints due to their different metabolic processes. We are only now starting to understand how metabolites produced by tumors can be used as biomarkers to detect cancer accurately. We have already demonstrated that this technology can successfully identify if patients with multiple sclerosis are progressing to the later stages of the disease, even before trained clinicians could tell. It is fascinating that the same technology is now showing promise in other diseases, like cancer.”

Dr. Fay Probert, a lead researcher of the study from the University of Oxford, says“This work describes a new way of identifying cancer. The goal is to produce a test for cancer that any GP can request. We envisage that metabolomic analysis of the blood will allow accurate, timely, and cost-effective triaging of patients with suspected cancer, and could allow better prioritization of patients based on the additional early information this test provides on their disease.”

Journal Reference:

  1. James R. Larkin et al. Metabolomic Biomarkers in Blood Samples Identify Cancers in a Mixed Population of Patients with Nonspecific Symptoms. DOI: 10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-21-2855
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