British researchers from the University of Bradford have developed what can potentially become a universal blood test for cancer.

The Lymphocyte Genome Sensitivity (LGS) test looks at white blood cells and measures the damage caused to their DNA.

The test will enable doctors to confirm or rule out cancer in patients who are presenting symptoms, and even those with no symptoms at all. The test proved successful, as the team tested it on 200 volunteers. Lymphocyte responses from 208 individuals were examined: 20 with melanoma, 34 with colon cancer, and 4 with lung cancer (58), 18 with suspected melanoma, 28 with polyposis, and 10 with COPD (56). 94 volunteers were healthy. However, it’s important to note that only three kinds of cancer were represented, so the test is still a while away from truly becoming ‘universal’ – but the signs are good.

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The important thing is that the test proved to be accurate even in the initial tests, diagnosing cancer and pre-cancerous conditions from the blood of patients with melanoma, colon cancer and lung cancer. It could save doctors lots of time and money, and infinitely more important – it could save lives, especially with cancers which are hard to detect in the initial phases.

The Lymphocyte Genome Sensitivity (LGS) test (as it’s officially called) examines white blood cells and measures the damage caused to their DNA when subjected to different intensities of ultraviolet light (UVA), which is known to damage DNA. This allows researchers to identify patients whio have even pre-cancerous developments.

“White blood cells are part of the body’s natural defence system”, says Professor Diana Anderson who led the study. “We know that they are under stress when they are fighting cancer or other diseases, so I wondered whether anything measureable could be seen if we put them under further stress with UVA light.We found that people with cancer have DNA which is more easily damaged by ultraviolet light than other people, so the test shows the sensitivity to damage of all the DNA — the genome — in a cell.”

In theory, this should work for most (if not all) types of cancer – but cancer has surprised researchers before. These are just the initial results, but again – very promising results.

“Whilst the numbers of people we tested are, in epidemiological terms, quite small, in molecular epidemiological terms, the results are powerful. We’ve identified significant differences between the healthy volunteers, suspected cancer patients and confirmed cancer patients of mixed ages at a statistically significant level of P<0.001. This means that the possibility of these results happening by chance is 1 in 1000. We believe that this confirms the test’s potential as a diagnostic tool.”