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Cancer detection breakthrough

Coventry (England), Oct. 29 (Reuters): A new test that detects a group of molecules in cancerous cells could revolutionise cancer screening by picking up early signs of bowel, cervical and other common forms of the disease.

Professor Ron Laskey of University of Cambridge and his colleagues have developed a simple, non-invasive test that pinpoints a group of molecules called MCMs which are found in rapidly dividing cancerous cells but not in healthy cells.

If further studies confirm the results of early trials, he believes the molecular markers could form the basis of screening tests for bowel and other types of cancer such as cervical, bladder, oral, lung and breast.

“It is affordable, non-invasive and it has the potential to revolutionise cancer screening,” Nobel Prize winner Sir Paul Nurse told a science conference. Nurse, the chief executive of the medical charity Cancer Research UK, added that Laskey’s work is an example of how understanding the basic biology of cell division can detect cancer.

Laskey told the first annual meeting of Cancer Research UK that the molecular marker appears to offer a method of identifying several cancer types. “We think it has a lot of potential,” he said.

The group of molecules are involved in making new DNA and are only present in cells that are actively multiplying.

The bowel cancer test detected the molecule in cells from samples of stool, but Laskey said they may also be picked up in cells from saliva, cervical smears, urine and needle biopsies of breast cells.

When Laskey and his team tested the technique on bowel cancer patients and healthy individuals, it correctly identified the molecule in nearly all the cancer patients but was not found in any of the healthy volunteers.

“We now have to test it on the population at large,” said Laskey, adding that it will determine if very early signs of the disease can be detected.

Bowel cancer is one of the most common cancers but if it is detected and treated early, survival rates are high. Laskey believes the test could form the basis of a screening programme for the disease, along with a bowel examination, by detecting the molecules in samples of feces.

“We’re really excited by our results so far, which suggests that our test is not only sensitive but also specific, in that it does not accidentally pick out healthy people as having bowel cancer,” he added.

The molecules are also being tested in trials to detect early signs of cervical cancer and Laskey's team are collaborating with colleagues in India to use it as a screening method for oral cancer — the second most common cancer in the Indian sub-continent.

“The beauty of the marker is that it detects early abnormalities in the development of the disease,” Laskey added.

Although the group of molecules have the potential to detect various cancer types, Laskey believes it could be particularly useful in detecting bowel cancer because available tests are not entirely reliable or involve invasive physical examinations.

“Ultimately this could be a very affordable test,” he said.

Up to 300 of Britain's top cancer scientists are attending the three-day medical conference in Coventry, central England.

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