Five Years Before Brain Cancer Diagnosis, Cytokine Changes Are Detectable in Blood

Changes in immune activity appear to signal a growing brain tumor five years before symptoms arise, new research has found. Interactions among proteins that relay information from one immune cell to another are weakened in the blood of brain cancer patients within five years before the cancer is diagnosed, said lead researcher Dr. Judith Schwartzbaum of The Ohio State University. That information could one day lead to earlier diagnosis of brain cancer, said Dr. Schwartzbaum, an Associate Professor of Epidemiology and member of Ohio State's Comprehensive Cancer Center. The study, published online on June 8, 2017 in the journal PLOS ONE, focused on gliomas, which make up about 80 percent of brain cancer diagnoses. Average survival time for the most common type of glioma is 14 months. The open-access PLOS ONE article is titled “A Nested Case-Control Study of 277 Prediagnostic Serum Cytokines and Glioma.” Symptoms vary and include headaches, memory loss, personality changes, blurred vision and difficulty speaking. On average, the cancer is diagnosed three months after the onset of symptoms and when tumors are typically advanced. "It's important to identify the early stages of tumor development if we hope to intervene more effectively," Dr. Schwartzbaum said. "If you understand those early steps, maybe you can design treatments to block further tumor growth." While widespread blood testing of people without symptoms of this rare tumor would be impractical, this research could pave the way for techniques to identify brain cancer earlier and allow for more-effective treatment, Dr. Schwartzbaum said. Dr. Schwartzbaum evaluated blood samples from 974 people, half of whom went on to receive a brain-cancer diagnosis in the years after their blood was drawn. The samples came from Norway's Janus Serum Bank.
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