In a study published in the journal Gut, researchers from Belgium identified a set of biomarkers in white blood cells that could be detected using a simple blood test to diagnose colorectal cancer in its earliest stages.
Using data obtained from patients at four oncological centres across Europe, the team identified a signature immune response triggered the moment colorectal cancer cells are detected by the body.
This culminates with certain white blood cells, known as peripheral blood monocytes, attempting to remove the cancerous cells.
‘The substances secreted by the cancer cells activate specific genes in the monocytes,’ lead author Dr Alexander Hamm said. ‘Now we have identified these genes, and they can be used to diagnose colorectal cancer through blood collection by using standard techniques.’
Colorectal cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death worldwide, but the chance of a cure is very high (around 95%) if the cancer is detected at an early enough stage, the researchers said.
Senior author Professor Max Mazzone said: ‘This research demonstrates how important it is to gain a thorough understanding of the role of our immune system in cancer.
‘In this case, this knowledge will hopefully result in a new, more sensitive test to detect colorectal cancer at an early stage, so that more patients can be cured.’