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A simple blood test can identify people with a greater risk of developing cancer

A simple blood test can identify people at greater risk of developing cancer by detecting whether they have abnormally small red blood cells

  • Microcytosis has been linked to genetic conditions that affect hemoglobin in the blood
  • It has also been linked to iron deficiency, a hallmark of some cancers
  • Experts have examined anonymized patient records to see who has developed cancer
  • They found that microcytosis doubled the risk of cancer after a year

A simple blood test can identify people at greater risk of developing cancer by detecting whether they have abnormally small red blood cells, a study found.

The condition – known as ‘microcytosis’ – has been linked to iron deficiency, which is known to be a hallmark of some cancers, especially that of the gut.

It is also known to be associated with a number of genetic conditions that affect the oxygen transporting hemoglobin in the blood.

By studying anonymized patient records, researchers found that having microcytosis seemed to double the risk of developing cancer within the following year.

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A simple blood test can identify people at greater risk of developing cancer by detecting whether they have abnormally small red blood cells, a study found. The condition - 'microcytosis' - has been linked to iron deficiency, which is known to be a hallmark of some cancers

A simple blood test can identify people at greater risk of developing cancer by detecting whether they have abnormally small red blood cells, a study found. The condition – ‘microcytosis’ – has been linked to iron deficiency, which is known to be a hallmark of some cancers

In their study, Rhian Hopkins and Willie Hamilton of the University of Exeter and colleagues analyzed data from the Clinical Practice Research Datalink, which contains anonymized data from patients from more than 1,400 UK healthcare practices.

“Research aimed at diagnosing cancer earlier is so important to reduce the burden of this devastating disease,” said Hopkins.

“The identification of risk markers, such as microcytosis, that are relevant to a range of cancers can have a real impact in primary care.”

Of the 108,000 odd patients in the data link data, the researchers focused on 12,289 over 40 years of age with microcytosis – 497 of whom were found to develop cancer within the year.

The team found that after one year, the risk of cancer was twice as high in patients with microcytosis – up to 4 percent.

In male patients, cancer risk increased from 2.7 percent in patients without microcytosis to 6.2 percent in people with the condition.

In women, cancer risk increased from 1.4 percent to 2.7 percent if microcytosis was present.

“Overall, cancer risk in patients with microcytosis was still low, but our research shows that cancer needs to be investigated,” said Professor Hamilton.

While the possibility of cancer is fairly easy to identify in two-thirds of patients with the disease, in the rest of the cases it can manifest with unclear symptoms.

“For these patients, GPs should use more subtle clues to recognize that cancer may be present,” added Professor Hamilton.

“Small red blood cells have long been recognized in colon cancer, but this study shows that they are a much broader indication, warning the doctor about the small chance of one of many possible cancers.”

The full findings of the study are published in the British Journal of General Practice.

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