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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 April, 2004, 23:39 GMT 00:39 UK
Blood test 'may predict cancer'
The test would look for changes in hormone levels
A simple blood test could one day be used to identify people at risk of developing cancer.

Recent studies have suggested that levels of key hormones are higher in people with some cancers.

Writing in The Lancet, doctors at Manchester's Christie Hospital say testing for these hormones could identify at risk of cancer.

However, other experts have played down the claims saying such a test would be many years away.

Growing evidence

Dr Andrew Renehan and colleagues at Christie Hospital reviewed 21 studies carried out over the past eight years.

They concluded that there is now growing evidence to suggest that levels of specific hormones rise when people have cancer.

It might be feasible but if it is it is quite a long way away
Professor Peter Sasieni,
Cancer Research UK
The studies suggest that these increases can vary between people and are different depending on what type of cancer they have.

But the doctors believe testing for these changes could identify those at risk of developing the disease.

"The laboratory tests used to measure these hormones are simple and inexpensive," said Dr Renehan.

"We need to standardise the tests between laboratories in different countries, but there is a huge potential to use these tests to help reduce common cancers.

"Importantly, we know that diet and lifestyle factors like smoking and physical activity can alter levels of these hormones and this can be a basis for cancer prevention."

Dr Renehan said further research is needed to find out if targeting these hormones can reduce the chances of developing cancer.

"We now need new research to test whether lowering the concentrations of these hormones, through drugs or lifestyle changes, results in a reduction in new cancer cases.

"We also need to follow people long-term to test how someone's hormone levels may change over their lifespan."

However, Professor Peter Sasieni of Cancer Research UK said much more work would be needed before doctors could use a simple blood test to identify those at risk.

"It doesn't look that promising at the moment," he told BBC News Online.

"It might be feasible but if it is it is quite a long way away."

Dr Julie Sharp, its science information officer, also played down the claims.

"The results do not imply that a simple blood test for cancer is just around the corner as growth factor levels do show natural variation in the general population."

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