The blood test, which uses Raman spectrometry, was developed by researchers at Swansea University, with funding from Cancer Research Wales and Health and Care Research Wales. A trial showed the test picked up about 80% of early-stage cancers.
It is projected that the NHS could adopt the test within two years. The trial has just finished with GPs in Wales. There are hopes the test could be rolled out UK-wide and then globally.
From the results released, 79% of early-stage bowel cancers and 100% of advanced bowel cancers were picked up by the test. The trial involved 27 practices and 595 patients across west Wales.
CEO of Cancer Research Wales, Ann Tate described the results as very “exciting”.
She said that bowel cancer was very difficult to diagnose and that the test “has been around eight to nine years in the making,”
“It is really difficult for GPs when somebody comes and says they’re not feeling well. They might be treated for all kinds of things first. This tool means the patient can take a simple test to check for bowel cancer.”
“What this does is take a small sample of blood and fires lasers through it. It gives a pattern and using AI [artificial intelligence], the pattern can be checked to see if the cancer has leaked into the blood.”
“It’s like a cancer fingerprint.”
With the new development, GPs can then fast-track patients for early treatment.
Ms Tate also praised Deborah James, who recently received a damehood for her work in the campaigns and encouraged people to go to their GP and get checked if they have any symptoms.
Majority of the 2,200 people diagnosed with bowel cancer a year in Wales are already at an advanced stage.
Lynda Atkins was diagnosed with advanced bowel cancer
Lynda Atkins, 66, from Swansea, was diagnosed with advanced bowel cancer in June 2021 and within weeks was having a life saving surgery.
Although she now lives with a stoma, she is cancer free and hopes this easier testing could diagnose bowel cancers earlier than hers – and save thousands of lives.
She said: “It’s very important. It’s going to save people’s lives. If I had that test, my cancer would have been picked up sooner. When I heard about the test, I just couldn’t believe it.”
She also said Deborah James had made her want to be more open about her bowel cancer too.
“I think she’s done tremendously well and I wanted to speak myself as she’s been so out in the open about it all. There’s a stigma about bowel cancer – it’s not out there enough.” she said.
According to Cancer Research Wales, bowel cancer is currently the second leading cause of cancer death in Wales, even as patients experience some of the longest waiting times for diagnosis and treatments in the developed world.
In February 2022, there were 7,751 people waiting for a colonoscopy in Wales. According to statistics from the Welsh government, the figure has more than doubled since March 2020 when the pandemic hit.
With the blood test, people can avoid more invasive tests, like a colonoscopy which will also go a long way in lowering the record waiting lists in Wales.
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