It's a Big Jump Forward for Cancer Prevention

Proteins linked to cancer can be found in blood more than 7 years before diagnosis
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted May 15, 2024 4:05 PM CDT
Proteins in Blood Can Warn of Cancer Years in Advance
The research "used a powerful technique called proteomics to find important differences in blood samples between people who did and did not go on to develop cancer," Cancer Research UK said.   (Getty Images/Andy)

Proteomics, meaning the study of proteins, isn't exactly a household word, but it's a field of research that could someday save countless lives. Cancer Research UK says a study it funded found that proteins linked to cancer can be found in people's blood more than seven years before the disease is diagnosed, suggesting cancer could be stopped before it develops. Researchers looked at blood samples from more than 44,000 people in the UK Biobank database, including 4,900 samples from people who were later diagnosed with cancer, the Guardian reports. Cancer Research UK says follow-up research will look at the roles the proteins play in cancer development—and at which drugs can stop them.

Researchers analyzed 1,463 proteins in each blood sample. They found 107 that changed at least seven years before a cancer diagnosis. Another 182 changed at least three years before diagnosis. The proteins were linked to 19 types of cancer, including lung, liver, and colon cancer, as well as blood cancers. "This research brings us closer to being able to prevent cancer with targeted drugs—once thought impossible but now much more attainable," says researcher Karl Smith-Byrne, a senior molecular epidemiologist at the University of Oxford.

A second study, also funded by Cancer Research UK, looked at data from more than 300,000 cancer cases and identified 40 blood proteins linked to the risk of developing nine types of cancer. Mark Lawler, a leading cancer researcher at Queen's University Belfast, says that while much research remains to be done, the findings are impressive, the Guardian reports. "Finding evidence of cancer before it has manifested itself clinically provides a critical window of opportunity to treat with a greater chance for success, or even more importantly to achieve the holy grail of preventing cancer before it can even occur," he says. (More cancer research stories.)

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