Proteins linked to cancer can start appearing in people’s blood more than seven years before they’re diagnosed, research has discovered, meaning the disease could potentially be found and treated earlier.
Two Cancer Research UK-funded studies from Oxford Population Health at the University of Oxford suggested these proteins could be involved at the very earliest stages of cancer.

Intercepting them could give medics a way to stop the disease developing altogether, Cancer Research UK said.

Proteins linked to cancer can start appearing in people’s blood more than seven years before they’re diagnosed research has discovered, meaning cancer could be found and treated earlier. (Getty)

“This research brings us closer to being able to prevent cancer with targeted drugs – once thought impossible but now much more attainable,” said Oxford Population Health senior molecular epidemiologist Dr Karl Smith-Byrne, who worked on both papers.

Both studies, published in Nature Communications on Wednesday, used a technique called proteomics to find important differences in blood samples between people who did and did not go on to develop cancer.

“To be able to prevent cancer, we need to understand the factors driving the earliest stages of its development,” senior author of both studies and OPH senior molecular epidemiologist Professor Ruth Travis said.

“These studies are important because they provide many new clues about the causes and biology of multiple cancers, including insights into what’s happening years before a cancer is diagnosed.

Senior author of both studies and OPH senior molecular epidemiologist Professor Ruth Travis (Supplied)

“We now have technology that can look at thousands of proteins across thousands of cancer cases, identifying which proteins have a role in the development of specific cancers, and which might have effects that are common to multiple cancer types.”

In the first study, scientists analysed 44,000 blood samples collected and stored by UK Biobank, including more than 4900 samples from people who were later diagnosed with cancer.

Their analysis of 1463 proteins in each sample revealed 107 that changed at least seven years before a cancer diagnosis and 182 that changed at least three years before a cancer diagnosis.

In the second study, the scientists looked at genetic data from more than 300,000 cancer cases to do a deep dive into which blood proteins were involved in cancer development and could be targeted by new treatments, Cancer Research UK said.

They found 40 proteins in the blood that influence someone’s risk of getting nine different types of cancer.

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While altering these proteins may increase or decrease the chances of someone developing cancer, more research is needed to make sure targeting them with drugs doesn’t cause unintended side effects, researchers said.

The charity says the research is the first stage towards preventive therapies for cancer.

“Discoveries from this research are the crucial first step towards offering preventive therapies, which is the ultimate route for giving people longer, better lives, free from the fear of cancer,” Cancer Research UK executive director of research and innovation Dr Iain Foulkes said.

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