Spy proteins discovered that reveal cancer risk 7 years earlier

Getting there early, in oncology, is the most important objective. The earlier you recognize the presence of a tumor, the more successful you are at treating it. Yet it is also on this aspect that we must focus.

In our country it is estimated that in 2023 there have been 395,000 new cancer diagnoses (AIOM data), there were 390,700 in 2022 and 376,000 in 2020. Almost 4 million Italians today live with a solid or blood neoplastic disease, in 2005 there were 2.5 million. Early diagnosis, also in light of these figures, must become a fundamental goal, both for the individual and for the healthcare system. Except that, for certain forms of cancer, it is tremendously difficult.

So? At that time for those at high risk, there is hope to be able to identify some tumor forms well before their clinical manifestation. As stated in a press release from the same English university, two studies conducted by researchers from the Cancer Epidemiology Unit of Oxford Population Health have discovered that specific proteins present in the blood may be able to predict risk of a person from developing certain types of cancer more than seven years before being diagnosed with the disease.

How the studies were carried out

As mentioned, we are only at the beginning of a journey. And any tests that will be developed will be at least initially intended for individuals at higher risk to develop tumors, perhaps due to the presence of genetic predispositions. What is certain is that these studies appeared in a prestigious magazine such as Nature Communicationscould represent an opportunity to develop prevention, therapy and monitoring strategies over time tailored to each person.

Again referring to the university's press release, in the first of the two studies blood samples provided by 44,000 participants in the “Biobank” of the United Kingdom were analysed, a sort of “biological library” which maintains test results over time as well as evaluating how and to what extent subjects develop pathologies. In their lifetime, just over one in ten of these people, 4,900 to be exact, went on to develop a tumor. By studying almost 1,500 proteins within the blood samples, the experts tried to line up the results of people who did not develop cancer with the results of those who went on to develop cancer to see if there were or fewer differences between the proteins present. Of the 1,463 proteins analyzed, 618 proteins were associated with 19 different types of cancer. 107 of these proteins were present in blood samples of people who had developed cancer more than seven years before receiving a diagnosis. 182 proteins were present in blood samples of people who had developed cancer more than three years before diagnosis.

In short, by focusing attention on specific parameters we could try to evaluate the possible risk even more than 7 years beforehand. As Keren Papier, senior nutritional epidemiologist at Oxford Population Health and lead author of the study, points out in the institution's press release, it takes time: “Now we need to study these proteins in depth to see which ones could be reliably used for prevention – is his comment”.

Hopes for tailor-made prevention

The second study, coordinated by Karl Smith-Byrne, examined data from over 300,000 cancer cases to discover which blood proteins were involved in the development of the tumor and could become a “target” for specific treatments. Forty proteins in the blood were identified that affected the risk of nine different types of cancer.

In this sense, we are truly at the ultra-preliminary stages for pharmacological prevention. In fact, research shows that if it is true that a possible impact of treatment on these proteins could influence the risk of developing cancer, the risk that they may occur should not be underestimated. unwanted side effects. In this sense, the step forward in the laboratory is very significant. But the lead author of the research himself points out that at the moment “before clinical trials take place, we have some early indications of which proteins we might avoid targeting due to unwanted side effects. This research it brings us closer to possibility to prevent cancer with targeted drugs, once thought impossible but now much more achievable.”

In short: further research is needed to discover the exact role these proteins play in cancer development, which proteins are the most reliable to test for, which tests could be developed to detect the proteins in the clinic, and which drugs could target these targets.