U.K. team says blood test and ultraviolet light could cheaply screen for most cancers

Even as the diagnostics industry continues to pursue more sophisticated approaches to cancer testing, a group from the U.K. has come up with a simple blood test that could generate much more bang for the buck.

The research team from the University of Bradford and elsewhere said it has developed a diagnostic approach that uses an easy blood test and ultraviolet light. It has already successfully spotted melanoma, colon and lung cancer in preliminary testing, the BBC reported online, and could eventually be used to help spot multiple cancers.

The Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (The FASEB Journal) published details of their work.

This study reflects early testing results from a small sample (208 people). For such a test to be useful and useable on multiple cancers, many more patients and likely years more testing will be required to see if the test is viable. But as the BBC noted, the hope is that this simple test could have widespread applications to help spot multiple, or even all, cancers. For healthcare systems in developed markets like the U.S. that are seeking to become more cost-effective, and for developing markets seeking to expand healthcare access to more people, such a test could have a profound impact. It would also be cheaper than more invasive diagnostic procedures used for many cancers, the BBC pointed out, including colonoscopies or biopsies.

Such a cost-effective approach could also offer an intriguing alternative to sophisticated molecular diagnostic tests under development that cost hundreds of dollars or more to use and process.

The BBC story explained that researchers conduct a simple blood test and then apply ultraviolet light to white blood cells, a process that damages the cells' DNA. They found that the white blood cell DNA sustained damage more easily in patients who had melanoma, colon and lung cancer, versus test subjects who were otherwise healthy.

According to the group's study abstract, of the 208 participants, 20 people had melanoma, 34 suffered from colon cancer, four had lung cancer, 18 had suspected melanoma, 28 had polyposis, and 10 had COPD. Ninety-four healthy patients were used as the control group.

Lead researcher Diana Anderson, a professor from the University of Bradford's School of Life Sciences, told the BBC that the results are encouraging enough to pursue expanded studies. The initial work was backed by Cancer Research UK.

"We found that people with cancer have DNA which is more easily damaged by ultraviolet light than other people," Anderson said to the news agency. "We accept that more research needs to be done; but these results so far are remarkable."

- read the full BBC story
- here's the study abstract

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