A world-first blood test that can diagnose certain types of brain cancer is being tested by UK researchers.
The simple test could reduce the need for invasive and risky surgery currently used to diagnose some brain tumours, according to experts at the Brain Tumour Research Centre of Excellence, run by Imperial College London and Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust.
It could also lead to earlier diagnosis and speed up treatment, potentially increasing survival rates for some of the deadliest forms of brain cancer.
Researchers have performed the first studies to assess whether the test can accurately diagnose glial tumours, including glioblastoma (GBM), the most commonly diagnosed type of high-grade brain tumour in adults; astrocytomas and oligodendrogliomas.
Dr Michele Afif, CEO of The Brain Tumour Charity, said: “Any research that paves the way for improved brain tumour diagnosis – that’s earlier, faster, better – is an important milestone for people facing this devastating disease. This promising research is still in the early stages, and we look forward to following its progress as the test is validated in larger studies.”
What are the signs and symptoms of a brain tumour?
“The symptoms of a brain tumour can vary from person to person due to a number of factors, including the type of tumour and where in the brain it is located,” explained Dr Afif.
The most common warning signs of a brain tumour in adults are headaches, changes in vision or cognition, seizures, nausea or sickness, loss of taste or smell and fatigue. These may get worse over time – for example, headaches may get more intense or occur more regularly.
Brain tumours are a relatively rare condition, affecting around 2000 people in Australia.
However, anyone who is worried about a symptom, particularly if they experience a persistent symptom or a combination of symptoms, should speak to their doctor.
Here’s a closer look at some of the key warning signs.
Change in vision
According to The Brain Tumour Charity, symptoms can occur because a tumour causes pressure to build up in the brain, which can affect or block the flow of cerebrospinal fluid, or encroach on nerves affecting vision and hearing.
“Brain tumour symptoms can include changes [to your] vision,” said Rachel Rawson, lead specialist cancer nurse at Perci Health. “This might be blurred or double vision, abnormal eye movements, losing part of your vision or sudden loss of vision.”
“One of the most common symptoms of a brain tumour, about 50 per cent of people who are diagnosed say that headaches were the first sign,” said Ms Rawson – who points out, however, that headaches are “very common” and lots of things can cause them.
“Doctors generally don’t worry if your headache is mild, occasional, and doesn’t last long,” she added. “Headaches caused by brain tumours tend to be worse in the morning, feel worse when coughing or shouting, and are not helped by painkillers.”
Nausea and dizziness
“Nausea and dizziness could be related to the tumour increasing pressure in the skull as it grows, or it can be related to the area of the brain that affects nausea,” said Ms Rawson.
As stated on The Brain Tumour Charity website, nausea (or vomiting) associated with a brain tumour could get better throughout the day when you are in an upright position, but worsen if you change position suddenly – for example, going from sitting or lying down to standing.
If this symptom continues for more than a week, happens on most days with no sign of getting better, and there isn’t another obvious cause, see your doctor.
Up to 80 per cent of people with a brain tumour have seizures. Your hands, arms or legs might jerk or twitch, and the seizure could affect your whole body.
“Seizures are the most common first symptom that leads to a diagnosis,” said Ms Rawson. However, she adds: “As brain tumours are rare and seizures can happen for many reasons, it doesn’t mean that you have a brain tumour.”
Do you know anyone who has had a brain tumour? Did they suffer from any obvious symptoms before their diagnosis? Why not share your experience in the comments section below?
– With PA
Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.