Scientists have discovered a way to potentially diagnose brain cancer up to five years earlier than is currently possible.
New research has found that up to half a decade before symptoms – such as loss of memory, headaches and dizziness – begin to physically show, changes are already detectable in the patient’s blood.
Looking at data from 974 people, the study focused on gilomas, which make up 80% of brain cancer diagnosis and have an average survival time of 18 months.
They found that cytokine proteins, responsible for relaying information from one immune cell to another in the bloodstream, become weakened in their interactions with the onset of cancer.
All the patients who later went on to be diagnosed with brain cancer, had this notable change in immune activity, and less cytokine interaction, long before any other outward symptoms become apparent.
Lead researcher Judith Schwartzbaum, of Ohio State University, said: “There was a clear weakening of those interactions in the group who developed brain cancer and it’s possible this plays a role in tumor growth and development.”
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On average brain cancer is diagnosed three months after the onset of symptoms, by which point the tumour has typically reached an advanced stage, meaning that any chance of earlier diagnosis is crucial.
Schwartzbaum said: “It is important to identify the early stages of tumour development if we hope to intervene more effectively. If you understand those early steps, maybe you can design treatments to block further tumour growth.”
The team also hopes the same logic could be applied to other cancers, not just brain tumours.
Schwartzbaum’s previous work looked at the role of allergies in protecting people against brain cancer, and how certain proteins in the blood communicate and spark immune responses.
Widespread testing of people without any symptoms would be impractical but it could pave the way for more effective treatment and earlier diagnosis, say the researchers.
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