South West Wales

Swansea-developed bowel cancer blood test 'promising'

Bowel Council Image copyright ABMU Health Board
Image caption The Swansea-based research team behind the revolutionary bowel cancer blood test are Prof Dean Harris (centre), PhD student Cerys Jenkins and Prof Peter Dunstan

A blood test developed by experts in Swansea could lead to bowel cancer patients being diagnosed much earlier.

Initial trials are promising and it is hoped the simple procedure could improve chances of survival.

The test could be used throughout the NHS within the next few years, with a clinical trial starting in GP practices across the Swansea area in 2017.

"We are delighted by the accuracy of the blood test to date," said Prof Dean Harris.

Prof Harris, Singleton Hospital consultant colorectal surgeon and honorary professor at Swansea University Medical School, is leading the project with Prof Peter Dunstan, of the university's School of Physics.

Colorectal, or bowel, cancer is the third most-common cancer worldwide, with 41,000 cases diagnosed in the UK every year.

Early diagnosis is hampered by the lack of "red flag" symptoms and patients are often not diagnosed until their chances of survival are greatly reduced.

Image copyright Thinkstock

The award-winning Swansea project dispenses with more intrusive methods of detection, using instead a laser-based blood analysis called Raman spectroscopy.

The initial study involved 160 patients from the Swansea area, some known to have bowel cancer and some known not to. It was funded by a grant from Cancer Research Wales.

Prof Harris said: "At 97%, (the accuracy) exceeds that of other testing methods, even colonoscopy."

'A global need'

The next stage will see the method tested on blood where it is unknown whether the patient has bowel cancer.

Researchers have now applied for a £250,000 grant to expand their testing.

Prof Harris said GPs could be able to offer the test to patients in just three to five years.

"There's such a global need for something like this and we have taken the technology on much further than we anticipated," he added.

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