Cancer can be recognized in the blood even before the onset of the disease

Cancer can be recognized in the blood even before the onset of the disease

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Early cancer detection: Researchers examine biomarkers in the blood

In earlier scientific studies it was found that so-called microRNAs are promising biomarkers for lung cancer and can be found in the blood of those affected before the onset of the disease. Now a research team wants to find out whether such "blood signatures" can also be detected before the diagnosis of other types of cancer.

"The earlier a cancer is discovered and treated, the greater the chances of a cure," writes the German Cancer Aid on its website. Because early stages can "usually be treated more successfully and more gently than late stages, in which daughter tumors (metastases) may even have developed," according to the experts. Findings from Saarland researchers could help with early detection. They have found that cancer can sometimes be detected in the blood before the onset of the disease.

Signs of lung cancer before diagnosis

According to a recent report, a research team from Saarland University has demonstrated in several studies that specific short nucleic acids - so-called microRNAs - can be found in the blood of lung cancer patients even before the onset of the disease.

In a follow-up project, the researchers now want to investigate whether such "blood signatures" can also be detected before the diagnosis of breast cancer and colon cancer.

The German Cancer Aid is funding the research project for the early detection of tumors at the Saar University.

Detect tumors early with a simple blood test

The earlier a cancer is recognized, the greater the chances of a cure. Scientists hope that it will be possible to detect tumors early using a simple blood test in a few years.

As the communication says, this could be achieved in the future with the help of so-called micro-RNAs that circulate in the blood. Micro-RNAs are specific molecules in ribonucleic acid that influence gene control and play a role in cancer development.

A research team led by bioinformatician Andreas Keller and human geneticist Eckart Meese from Saarland University showed in a study published in the journal "Molecular Oncology" that micro-RNAs from the blood serum of people with lung cancer have a different molecular fingerprint than that of healthy people - and years before the tumor was diagnosed:

"We were able to find major differences between lung cancer patients and control samples seven years before the diagnosis," said Prof. Andreas Keller.

Possible further step towards early cancer detection

In their current project, Keller and Meese want to investigate whether such specific blood signatures can also be found in breast cancer and colon cancer; together with lung cancer, both are among the most common types of cancer.

The experts use samples from the world's largest biobank, the Norwegian “Janus Serum Bank”, for their research. According to the information, the blood serum of 60 volunteers - including 30 cancer patients and 30 healthy people - should be analyzed at three identical times before the tumor diagnosis.

"The span ranges from several decades before the diagnosis to the time of the diagnosis itself," explains Prof. Eckart Meese. The study thus fulfills a crucial aspect, namely the observation of dynamics from identical time sequences, says Meese, who heads the institute for human genetics at the university. In the scientist's laboratory, the blood samples are analyzed for 2,500 different microRNA molecules.

According to the communication, Keller will use methods of statistical learning for evaluating the data at the Saarbrücken Center for Bioinformatics: "By assigning the individual blood signatures to the categories 'cancer yes' or 'cancer no', we want to find patterns that are related to later development can be linked, ”explains the bioinformatician.

It also had to be clarified how variable the total biomarkers in the blood were, because surely many other factors such as age and gender also played a role.

If the current Janus long-term study shows a clear connection between specific micro-RNA patterns in the blood and the later occurrence of breast cancer or colon cancer, this would be a further step towards early cancer detection using a simple blood test.

But even then, the two researchers estimate that it will still be several years before a market-ready test will be developed. (ad)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • Saarland University: Early cancer detection: Saarbrücken researchers examine biomarkers in blood, (accessed: February 26, 2020), Saarland University
  • Sinan Uğur Umu, Hilde Langseth, Andreas Keller, Eckart Meese, Åslaug Helland, Robert Lyle, Trine B. Rounge: A 10 ‐ year prediagnostic follow ‐ up study shows that serum RNA signals are highly dynamic in lung carcinogenesis; in: Molecular Oncology, (published: December 18, 2019), Molecular Oncology
  • German Cancer Aid: early cancer detection, (accessed: 26.02.2020), German Cancer Aid

Video: Blood Cancer 101. Closer to a Cure Community Lecture Series (September 2022).


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