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Simple blood test could help GPs diagnose rare cancer

15 August 2018 08:41

A simple blood test could help diagnose patients

A simple blood test could help diagnose patients

A simple blood test could help GPs detect a rare form of bone marrow cancer much earlier, a new study suggests.

Scientists found that the combination of two blood tests frequently carried out by GPs could help rule out multiple myeloma, or prompt further investigation.

Symptoms of the disease are non-specific, which means they're often overlooked and it's harder to successfully diagnose the illness.

This means that many patients suffer from delays in their diagnosis, which can lead to poorer outcomes for those affected.


Researchers examined British patients whose data was held in the Clinical Practice Research Datalink to find out whether blood tests are useful in suggesting or excluding a diagnosis of myeloma.

The experts from the University of Oxford, the University of Exeter and Chiddenbrook Surgery, Crediton, matched 2,703 cases to 12,157 control participants.

The study, published in the British Journal of General Practice, found that a simple combination of two blood parameters could be enough to diagnose patients, with these blood tests already routinely conducted at GP surgeries.

The authors found that GPs could simply rule out the disease among patients who had normal results on blood tests which either examine plasma viscosity (PV) or erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) in combination with a test which examines normal haemoglobin.

They found that during the year before diagnosis, 85% of myeloma patients had an abnormal ESR compared with 46% of the control participants.

Meanwhile, 81% had an abnormal PV compared with 41% of controls.

The authors suggested that a system could be introduced into patients' electronic health records to alert doctors to relevant symptoms or changes in blood parameters related to myeloma.

Sufficient test

Constantinos Koshiaris, lead author of the study from Oxford University, said: "The combination of levels of haemoglobin, the oxygen carrier in the blood, and one of two inflammatory markers (erythrocyte sedimentation rate or plasma viscosity) are a sufficient test to rule out myeloma.

"If abnormalities are detected in this test, it should lead to urgent urine protein tests which can help speed up diagnosis."

Professor Willie Hamilton, of the University of Exeter Medical School, added: "More timely treatment could significantly improve survival rates for this disease.

"We report a simple way a GP can check patients presenting symptoms such as back, rib and chest pain, or recurrent chest infections, and determine whether they have myeloma or not."

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