Blood test can detect bowel cancer

A new blood test for bowel cancer could be introduced in the not-so-distant future following a successful trial.

In its latest set of results, biotech company VolitionRx reveals the combined assessment can detect 85% of cases of the disease as well as 50% of polyps – growths that may one day develop and become cancer.

Although research is still ongoing, scientists are hopeful it could be available in Europe from 2015 onwards.

The standard test used by the NHS is the faecal occult blood test, which works by detecting tiny amounts of blood in stool samples.

But this does not diagnose bowel cancer. Instead the results indicate whether further investigation - usually a colonoscopy - is needed.

“The 85% detection rate seen in this latest research is on par with rates achieved by faecal occult blood tests,” said Hans Jorgen Nielsen, professor of surgical oncology at Hvidovre Hospital in Denmark, who is working on the research.

“If we could improve screening compliance by offering the public a simple, less intrusive test that is just as accurate, we could detect even more colorectal cancer cases in the earlier stages and survival rates could drastically improve.”

Bowel cancer is one of the most common types of cancer. It mostly develops in the large bowel, although it can sometimes start in the small bowel.

Symptoms include blood in stools, an unexplained change in bowel habits - such as prolonged diarrhoea or constipation - and unexplained weight loss.

Research groups have welcomed the research into potential blood tests for detecting bowel cancer.

“Developing a blood test to detect bowel cancer is an exciting idea, but this research is at an early stage and has only been tested in a small number of people,” said Dr Claire Knight, Cancer Research UK’s health information manager.

“The current bowel screening programme involves a test which can be done in the privacy of your own home and is an effective way to cut deaths from bowel cancer, so it’s important to be registered with a doctor to receive your invitation when eligible.”

Another new, even more effective way of screening for bowel cancer - known as bowel scope - is currently being piloted and could be introduced in England by 2016.

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