Simple blood test can indicate cervical cancer

The heat profile from a person's blood, known as a plasma thermogram, can serve as an indicator for the presence or absence of cervical cancer, including the stage of the cancer.

“We have been able to demonstrate a more convenient, less-intrusive test for detecting and staging cervical cancer,” said lead author Nichola C. Garbett, PhD, of the University of Louisville in Kentucky. “Additionally, other research has shown that we are able to demonstrate if the current treatment is effective so that clinicians will be able to better tailor care for each patient.”

To generate a plasma thermogram, a blood plasma sample is melted producing a unique signature indicating a person's health status. This signature represents the major proteins in blood plasma, measured by differential scanning calorimetry.

The research team has demonstrated that the plasma thermogram profile varies when a person does or does not have the disease. The team believes that biomarkers, which are molecules associated with the presence of disease, can affect the thermogram of someone with cervical disease. Mass spectrometry indicated that biomarkers associated with cervical cancer existed in the plasma.

“The key is not the actual melting temperature of the thermogram, but the shape of the heat profile,” Garbett said. “We have been able to establish thermograms for a number of diseases. Comparing blood samples of patients who are being screened or treated against those thermograms should enable us to better monitor patients as they are undergoing treatment and follow-up. This will be a chance for us to adjust treatments so they are more effective.”

Brad Chaires, PhD, also of the University of Louisville, noted that plasma thermograms have different patterns associated with different demographics, as well as for different diseases. This results in a more thorough application of the test as a person's thermogram can be compared with specific demographic reference profiles or, even better, to the person's own profile. Using a person's unique thermogram would provide the most accurate application of the test which could be used as part of a personalized medicine approach.

Further clinical study could result in the plasma thermogram becoming a complement test to the traditional screening method for cervical cancer—the Pap smear—and would be less intrusive and more convenient for the patient. In addition, because the plasma thermogram test could allow treatment effectiveness to be more easily monitored, treatment that was not working could be stopped sooner and replaced with more effective treatment. In summary, the test could result in earlier detection, more effective therapeutic approaches, and lower health care costs for the screening and treatment of cervical cancer.

The study was published in PLOS One (2014; doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0084710).

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