New Blood Test Detects Metastasis in Cancer Patients

cancer cells
Source: Freepik

Researchers at the University of Oxford have designed a blood test for cancer, with the ability to detect metastasis among patients.

Despite the advances in medicine and healthcare, cancer detection and treatment still face many challenges. The deadly disease can often go unnoticed for years due to nonspecific symptoms. These kinds of symptoms, such as fever and fatigue, are vague and do not point to a specific disease. As a result, physicians are unable to diagnose most cancers until it reaches an advanced stage. Now, for the first time, researchers have designed a cancer blood test that can also detect metastasis and lead to early detection. The study is available in the journal Clinical Cancer Research.

According to study author Dr. James Larkin, tumor produces unique metabolites which can be used as biomarkers for cancer detection. Therefore, researchers at the University of Oxford used a technique called NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance) metabolomics to analyze metabolite levels in cancer patients. Previously, cancer blood tests had relied on detecting tumor genetic material.

The team at Oxford analyzed blood samples from 300 patients with non-specific symptoms. Irrespective of primary cancer type, the test correctly detected cancer in 19 out of every 20 patients. Moreover, among the detected cancer cases, it identified metastatic disease with a 94% accuracy. Thus, making it the first time that a blood test can detect the spread of cancer.

We envisage that metabolomic analysis of the blood will allow accurate, timely and cost-effective triaging of patients with suspected cancer, and could allow better prioritisation of patients based on the additional early information this test provides on their disease.

Dr Fay Probert, lead researcher

Such technology can likely aid general physicians to detect cancer early on, leading to timely treatment. Moreover, its cost-effectiveness makes it an attractive option for cancer patients. Researchers now plan to conduct more studies with a larger sample size to further evaluate the new technique.


Larkin, James R., et al. “Metabolomic Biomarkers in Blood Samples Identify Cancers in a Mixed Population of Patients with Nonspecific Symptoms.” Clinical Cancer Research, 2022, doi:10.1158/1078-0432.ccr-21-2855.


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