A new combined blood test for bowel cancer can detect 85% of cases of the disease, research suggests.
The simple blood test can also detect 50% of polyps — growths that may one day become cancer — and could be available in Europe from 2015.
Biotech company VolitionRx published the latest results but said research was ongoing.
The standard test in Britain is the faecal occult blood test, which works by detecting tiny amounts of blood in stool samples.
It does not diagnose bowel cancer, but the results indicate whether further investigation (usually a colonoscopy) is needed.
Speaking about the new blood test, Hans Jorgen Nielsen, professor of surgical oncology at Hvidovre Hospital in Denmark, who is working on the research, said: “The 85% detection rate seen in this latest research is on par with rates achieved by faecal occult blood tests.
“If we could improve screening compliance by offering the public a simple, less intrusive test that is just as accurate, we could detect even more colorectal cancer cases in the earlier stages and survival rates could drastically improve.”
Mark Flannagan, chief executive of Beating Bowel Cancer, said: “We welcome research into potential blood tests for detecting bowel cancer. Over 90% of cases are treatable if caught early, so it’s vital that more people are diagnosed at an early stage.
“The aim of finding a diagnostic blood test is an important one and more research needs to be done. We await the results of larger trials of this technique with interest.”
Dr Claire Knight, Cancer Research UK’s health information manager, said: “Developing a blood test to detect bowel cancer is an exciting idea, but this research is at an early stage and has only been tested in a small number of people.
“The current bowel screening programme involves a test which can be done in the privacy of your own home and is an effective way to cut deaths from bowel cancer, so it’s important to be registered with a doctor to receive your invitation when eligible.
“A new, even more effective way of screening for bowel cancer — ‘bowel scope’ — is being piloted at the moment and should be introduced by 2016 in England.”
Bowel scope screening is an internal examination which looks inside the lower bowel. The aim is to find any polyps which may develop into bowel cancer if left untreated. Bowel scope screening is being piloted in parts of England.
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