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Precision Tests for Early Diagnosis of Bowel Cancer: A Dawning Reality for Wales

Ten years and £1m of investment by Cancer Research Wales has witnessed the Raman blood test for bowel cancer turn from no more than an idea and a vision, into a precision cancer test that can be used at the first point of patient contact.

This test is now on the verge of transforming both bowel cancer diagnostic pathways and screening programmes across Wales by providing more accurate and earlier diagnosis and leads the way for cancer tests of this nature in the UK.

We welcome this week's news that further funding by our colleagues at Moondance Cancer Initiative, will make the test available to 200 people in the Swansea area who have previously been diagnosed and treated for bowel cancer or advanced polyps.

Patients with a history of previous disease run an increased risk of developing further polyps or recurrence of residual disease over time, compared to those found to be clear following diagnostic colonoscopy. Therefore, surveillance colonoscopies are critical to monitor the progress and well-being of this large patient group and ensure early intervention can be given in the cases where the disease does reoccur.

Unfortunately, this significant patient group has found themselves caught up in the large backlog of people currently waiting for colonoscopy. The number of people waiting for a colonoscopy in Wales has more than doubled since the pandemic, and currently stands at over 7,000. Of great concern is that almost half of these have been waiting more than 14 weeks, putting people at significant risk of late diagnosis.

The specific nature of the Raman blood test - which detects a unique molecular fingerprint in the blood of patients that only belongs to bowel cancers - offers the opportunity for clinicians to accurately separate those patients who need quick intervention from those unlikely to have any significant issues related to cancer.

The Raman blood test is more sensitive at detecting bowel cancer than any test currently available and will allow clinicians to prioritise and reserve colonoscopies for those patients that really need them.

One Swansea patient, who took part in the initial Cancer Research Wales funded studies said; “It has changed my life, to know to have a blood test which can prove very, very quickly if the cancer has come back. This is incredible!” You can read more about the research we originally funded and its revolutionary results here.

The new study announced this week will offer the Raman blood test to those patients that have been waiting the longest.

By providing the right test at the right time to the right patient, colonoscopies can be reserved for those most likely to need and benefit from them. This more informed triage approach to bowel cancer diagnosis will also prevent others from having to undergo an unnecessary invasive procedure which is often unpleasant and costly to the Health Service.

Dr Lee Campbell, Head of Research at Cancer Research Wales

“Over the last ten years, Cancer Research Wales has invested heavily in the development of precision blood-based cancer tests that can be deployed at the first point of patient contact to improve early cancer diagnosis. We are delighted to see the Raman Blood Test being primed to transform bowel cancer diagnosis in Wales through this new study. We would like to thank all our supporters for helping us get the test from concept to clinic.”

The latest study perfectly complements the recently funded Cancer Research Wales COLOSPECT trial that seeks to measure the value of the Raman Blood test in bowel cancer screening in over 2,000 patients. This trial is also being undertaken by Professors Dean Harris and Peter Dunstan in collaboration with CanSense and Bowel Cancer Screening Wales.

It is hoped that by providing a simple, more user-friendly blood test, more people will come forward to participate in bowel cancer screening. Especially in the areas of Wales that carry the greatest burden of bowel cancer and at the same time suffer from the lowest rates of uptake for bowel cancer screening.

The news this week would not have been possible without the generous support of the people of Wales. This has allowed Cancer Research Wales and the teams at Swansea, to take a concept and create a state-of-the-art cancer test suited for the challenges of modern-day medicine.

If you would like to donate to help fund more ground-breaking cancer research like this in Wales, you can do so here. Your support will give hope to people affected by cancer today and transform the future for the patients of tomorrow. Thank you so much.