Scientists have discovered a potential cancer-detecting blood test, which could cost as little as £1. They believe it could catch thousands of cancers early and is the first discovered indicator of the disease in 35 years. It could provide GPs with the tools as to whether they should refer a patient for further investigation.
According to Cancer Research, every four minutes someone in the UK dies from cancer. It is thought many of these lives could be saved with earlier diagnosis. The scientists suggest that a high blood platelet count could predict all types of cancer up to three months before other symptoms become appear. If patients with high blood platelet counts (called thrombocytosis) were sent for further tests, it is thought at least 5,500 cancers could be diagnosed earlier every year in the UK.
The team looked at patient records of 40,000 people aged 40+ who had been sent for blood tests by their GPs. 11% of men and 6% of women with high levels of blood platelets received a cancer diagnosis within a year – compared to 4% of men and 2% of women who didn’t have high levels. If a second raised platelet count was recorded within a six-month period, 18% of men and 10% of women had a cancer diagnosis.
Study author, Willie Hamilton from the University of Exeter said:
“It is big — it is up there with a breast lump or coughing blood [as an indicator]. It is a genuine red flag.”
“The UK lags well behind other developed countries on early cancer diagnosis. In 2014, 163,000 people died of cancer in this country. Our findings on thrombocytosis show a strong association with cancer, particularly in men — far stronger than that of a breast lump for breast cancer. It is now crucial that we roll out cancer investigation of thrombocytosis. It could save hundreds of lives each year.”
According to The Times, Rosie Loftus, chief medical officer at Macmillan Cancer Support, said:
“Diagnosing cancer early can affect someone’s chance of survival or mean they need less invasive treatment. But it can be difficult to diagnose certain cancers, especially if they are not showing obvious symptoms… This research provides GPs with a vital indicator, which can help them when they are deciding whether someone should be referred to a specialist for further investigation.”
Experts say it’s worth noting not all patients who have raised blood platelets will have cancer.
The study was published in the British Journal of General Practice.