A newly-developed gene barcoding technique may predict how severe a man's prostate cancer is likely to be, according to new research from the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) in London.
The findings are a "very important" development towards achieving a cure, says Johann de Bono, lead author of the study published this week in the British medical journal The Lancet.
The blood tests can select aggressive prostate cancers by their specific patterns of gene activity. By reading the pattern of genes switched on and off in blood cells, researchers can accurately identify which cancers had the worst survival rates. In response to this, doctors can adjust treatment accordingly.
De Bono believes the blood test is a substantial advancement from current biopsy techniques.
"Although a biopsy can provide important diagnostic and prognostic information, it is invasive, carries potential complications and can be difficult to obtain," he says.
Furthermore, once treatment has commenced, further biopsies to monitor the cancer are not possible. In comparison, the blood test "would be much easier for patients, potentially more accurate and allows their cancer to be assessed throughout treatment," according to De Bono.
The blood tests also provide information a biopsy cannot, indicating how other patient factors, such as immune response, can impact survival.
The studies are limited - researchers only collected data from 100 people. De Bono states that the findings remain "preliminary" and "the next step is to evaluate this biomarker panel in a larger population of patients."
Depending on the outcome of these tests, the new barcoding screening technique could be available within the next five years.