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Research underway to develop blood test to detect bowel cancer

The test is being developed at Dublin City University and aims to detect if there are antibodies in blood that could indicate the presence of cancer in the bowel.

Image: Cloud Soup via Flickr

THE IRISH CANCER Society has announced it is funding research to develop a blood test to detect bowel cancer.

The announcement comes during Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, with ICS saying that the new research is being funded at the Biomedical Diagnostics Institute (BDI) at Dublin City University.

The blood test aims to identify bowel cancer in patients who may or may not be considered at higher risk of the disease, so they can be treated sooner, said the ICS.

The research is being led by Dr Gregor Kijanka. It is examining the possibility that the immune system can recognise bowel cancer cells or tumours, and initial findings show that changes in cells that lead to bowel cancer are sometimes seen by the human body, which makes antibodies against it.

These antibodies are small particles in the blood. The human body normally makes them to fight off bacteria or viruses, and though they are not strong enough to defeat cancer, they could help the researchers to detect cancer very early.

According to Dr Kijanka:

Typically patients who experience the symptoms of bowel cancer may visit their doctor when they have a number of complaints such as a change in bowel habit; passing blood in the stool; feeling of fullness after going to the toilet;  or pain in the lower abdomen. These symptoms can be confusing for the patient and they may not be alerted to their seriousness.

With regard to the research, he explained:

Our goal is to use antibodies identified in patients with bowel cancer to develop a quick, non-invasive blood test that would detect bowel cancer earlier in patients who may or may not be considered at higher risk, so they are treated faster and remain healthy.

Professor John Fitzpatrick, Head of Research at the Irish Cancer Society, explained that bowel cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in Ireland. More than 2,200 people are diagnosed with the disease each year, and is almost equally common in men and women. It is also the second most common cause of cancer death in the country.

It is our view that a blood test for bowel cancer has the potential to improve the capability and cost-effectiveness of early detection as a viable strategy for reducing mortality from this disease. It will not replace colonoscopy, but rather influence clinical decision-making through effective stratification of patients for colonoscopy and improve early detection which will inevitably improve outcomes for patients in Ireland.

The ICS has contributed more than €30 million to cancer research since 1963. Currently, the Society is supporting 33 researchers as they investigate all types of cancer including breast, colorectal, ovarian, leukaemia, oesophageal, lung, prostate and metastatic cancers.

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