Belgian researchers announced Wednesday the development of a simple blood test to detect early-stage liver cancer and more accurately diagnose what is a major killer in Asia and Africa.
"The new test enables accurate detection of liver cancer in over 50 percent of the cases for which previous diagnostic tests have not been able to provide a definitive answer," said researchers at the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology in a statement.
Scientists at the institute, in northern Belgium, developed the test in collaboration with research centres in Beijing and Shanghai in China.
The test is for early detection of the hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), which is also becoming more prevalent in the West.
HCC is the most prevalent primary liver cancer. It most often appears following a chronic inflammation of the liver as a consequence of a hepatitis B or C virus infection or cirrhosis of the liver.
Half a million patients die every year in China because of cirrhosis of the liver or liver cancer.
The new test was developed by examining blood concentrations in Chinese patients with cirrhosis of the liver due to hepatitis B.
The team found that the levels of two particular sugar groups in blood proteins varied according to the stage of the disease.
"The researchers were able to make the correct diagnosis in 70 percent of the cases," said the statement from the institute. That success rate was equal to the strike rate of current testing procedures.
When the two techniques are combined "the accuracy of HCC diagnosis rises dramatically," the statement said.
The new technique could therefore allow frequent and non-invasive analysis to be carried out on cirrhosis patients, which would enable scientists to detect liver cancer at an earlier stage.
The researchers are now working on bringing the new test into compliance with clinical practices. They gave no date for when it might be made available.