New research could lead to GPs using simple blood tests to improve early diagnosis of multiple myeloma.
Multiple myeloma, also known as myeloma, is a type of bone marrow cancer. It can lead to symptoms such as bone pain, fractures, fatigue and kidney problems.
Myeloma often affects several areas of the body, such as the spine, skull, pelvis and ribcage, but according to the NHS it can can be difficult to diagnose because it’s an uncommon type of cancer that usually has few or no symptoms in the early stages.
GPs use urine and blood tests to check for certain types of antibodies and proteins, and if myeloma is suspected the patient is referred to hospital to see a haematologist for further tests and scans.
However, the new study could enable GPs to diagnose the disease with simple blood tests, saving patients from the worry of specialist referral.
Researchers from the University of Oxford, the University of Exeter and Chiddenbrook Surgery, Crediton, investigated the best combination of blood tests that could be used to diagnose myeloma in GP practices.
Blood tests of 2,703 cases taken up to five years prior to diagnosis were analysed and compared with those of 12,157 patients without the cancer, matching cases with control patients.
The research demonstrated that a simple combination of two blood parameters could be enough to diagnose patients. Such blood tests are routinely conducted in GP surgeries.
Constantinos Koshiaris, lead author of the study, from Oxford University, said: “The combination of levels of haemoglobin, the oxygen carrier in the blood, and one of two inflammatory markers (erythrocyte sedimentation rate or plasma viscosity) are a sufficient test rule out myeloma. If abnormalities are detected in this test, it should lead to urgent urine protein tests which can help speed up diagnosis.”
Early diagnosis could enable more timely treatment, significantly improving survival rates for the disease, added Professor Willie Hamilton of the University of Exeter Medical School, principal investigator on the study.