Brain tumours detected in urine test for first time

A simple urine test has been developed which can detect signs of a common brain tumour for the first time.

Researchers hope the test can eventually be used to screen people who are at high risk of the tumours, called a glioma, which affects around 4,000 people in the UK every year. 

The test also works on blood and was created by scientists at Cancer Research UK.

Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, believes the early findings could be refined and turned into widely-used tests “within the next decade”.

The glioma test focuses on a specific form of DNA called cfDNA, which is produced by cancerous glial cells when they die. Glial cells surround axons in the brain and support the functioning of our nervous system.

Researchers have long known that circulating cfDNA is a tell-tale sign of a glioma, but have been unable to develop sensitive enough tests.

The Cancer Research UK team built two methods to target the elusive tumour-derived DNA and recruited eight patients who had been identified as possibly having a glioma by an MRI.

These people gave blood, urine and cerebrospinal fluid samples to the researchers and also had a biopsy done on their tumour.

Urine test picked up 63 per cent of cancers

The test was geared to look for specific mutations and picked up 63 per cent of cancers via urine, and 83 per cent from blood.

A second facet of the study saw the researchers create a wider-reaching test to look at all of the cfDNA made by a tumour, not just focusing on known warning signs.

For this test, the researchers took fluid samples from 88 people — 35 with glial cancer — and used a computer algorithm to scour the genetic code of the cfDNA for signs of cancerous mutations.

This method did not require an invasive biopsy to be done and was cheaper to perform, but was less accurate, the researchers say.

“We believe the tests we’ve developed could in the future be able to detect a returning glioma earlier and improve patient outcomes,” said Dr Richard Mair, co-author of the study from Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute.

The authors of the study, published in EMBO Molecular Medicine, say the findings are preliminary but hope they can be used to improve the detection of cancerous brain tumours.

Currently, MRI scans every three months are the only way to see if a high-risk patient is suffering with a new or returning glial tumour, and the long wait time between scans can induce anxiety and stress.

‘The tests could be life changing’

“Talking to my patients, I know the three-month scan becomes a focal point for worry,” said Dr Mair.

“If we could offer a regular blood or urine test, not only will you be picking up recurrence earlier, you can also be doing something positive for the patient’s mental health.”

Sue Humphreys, from Walsall, a brain tumour patient, said: “If these tests are found to be as accurate as the standard MRI for monitoring brain tumours, it could be life changing.”

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