Two Cancer Research UK-funded studies have identified blood proteins that could signal cancer more than seven years before diagnosis, potentially enabling earlier detection and prevention.


  1. Scientists identified 618 proteins linked to 19 types of cancer, with 107 detected in blood samples collected over seven years before diagnosis.
  2. Proteomics was used to analyze a large set of proteins in blood samples, revealing crucial differences linked to cancer risk.
  3. Further research is needed to understand the roles of these blood proteins in cancer development and to develop reliable early detection tests and treatments.

Two Cancer Research UK-funded studies from Oxford Population Health have discovered blood proteins that could warn people of cancer more than seven years before it is diagnosed.

Scientists identified 618 proteins linked to 19 different types of cancer, including 107 proteins in a group of people whose blood was collected at least seven years before diagnosis.

The team have discovered that these blood proteins could be involved at the very earliest stages of cancer, where it could be prevented.

Further Reading: Serum Detect to Debut New Cancer Detection Technology

They believe that some of these proteins could be used to detect cancer much earlier than is currently possible. In the future, this could help treat the disease at a much earlier stage or prevent it altogether. 

Cancer Research UK is funding researchers to look for the earliest signs of cancer as part of its long-term strategy to prevent cancer through research. In these studies, the team used a powerful technique called proteomics. Proteomics allows scientists to analyze a large set of proteins in tissue samples at a single point in time, to see how they interact with each other and find any important differences in proteins between different tissue samples.

In the first study, scientists analyzed blood samples from UK Biobank which were taken from more than 44,000 people, including over 4,900 people who subsequently had a cancer diagnosis.

Blood Proteins Biomarker ID’d with Proteomics

Using proteomics, the team analyzed a set of 1,463 proteins from a single sample of blood from each person. They compared the proteins of people who did and did not go on to be diagnosed with cancer to look for important differences between them and find out which ones were linked to cancer risk. The scientists also identified 182 proteins that differed in the blood three years before a cancer diagnosis took place.

In the second study, the scientists looked at genetic data from over 300,000 cancer cases to do a deep dive into which blood proteins were involved in cancer development and could be targeted by new treatments.

Further Research Needed

The scientists found 40 blood proteins that influenced someone’s risk of getting nine different types of cancer. While altering these proteins may increase or decrease the chances of someone developing cancer, the scientists also found that in some cases this may lead to unintended side-effects.

However, the team stress that they will need to do further research to find out the exact role these blood proteins play in cancer development, which of the proteins are the most reliable ones to test for, what tests could be developed to detect the proteins in the clinic and which drugs could target these proteins.

“To save more lives from cancer, we need to better understand what happens at the earliest stages of the disease. Data from thousands of people with cancer has revealed really exciting insights into how the proteins in our blood can affect our risk of cancer. Now we need to study these proteins in depth to see which ones could be reliably used for prevention,” says Keren Papier, PhD, senior nutritional epidemiologist at Oxford Population Health and joint first author of the first study.

The papers, titled “Identifying proteomic risk factors for cancer using prospective and exome analyses of 1,463 circulating proteins and risk of 19 cancers in the UK Biobank” and “Identifying therapeutic targets for cancer among 2,074 circulating proteins and risk of nine cancers.” were published in Nature Communications.

“Preventing cancer means looking out for the earliest warning signs of the disease. That means intensive, painstaking research to find the molecular signals we should pay closest attention to,” says Iain Foulkes, PhD, executive Director of Research and Innovation at Cancer Research UK. “Discoveries from this research are the crucial first step towards offering preventative therapies which is the ultimate route for giving people longer, better lives, free from the fear of cancer.”