One of the most common metabolic disorders associated with cancer that occurs in around 10 to 20 per cent people is Hypercalcaemia – a condition that is characterized with elevated levels of calcium. Scientists have known the connection between it and cancer, but it was always thought to be a late effect of cancer. However, a new study has for the first time explored the possibility that Hypercalcaemia could predate the diagnosis of cancer. The study has found that it is quite possible that people who develop cancer later have Hypercalcaemia before the onset of cancer. This discovery can lead to an early diagnosis of cancer and can help in successfully treating it.
The good news is that a simple blood test is sufficient to find out if a person has Hypercalcaemia. This has prompted doctors to explore the connection between cancer and Hypercalcaemia further. The research about the same was published in the British Journal of Cancer. The research analysed the electronic records of 54000 patients whose blood reports showed an elevated level of calcium. They looked further to find out how many of them went on to receive a cancer diagnosis.
All previous studies on Hypercalcaemia and cancer that have been carried out focussed on patients who had already been diagnosed with cancer. It was the understanding that Hypercalcaemia was a late effect of the cancer remarked Dr. Fergus Hamilton. He had led the research from the Centre for Academic Primary Care at the University of Bristol. He further said that they wanted to look at the issue from a different perspective and find out if high calcium levels in blood could be used as an early indicator of cancer and therefore in the diagnosis of cancer.
The results that were found after the analysis of data from 54,000 patients were eye-opening. It was seen that in men, even mild hypercalcaemia (2.6–2.8?mmol?l?1) signified a risk of cancer in one year of 11.5 per cent. If the calcium levels were above 2.8?mmol?l?1, the risk increased to 28 per cent. Interestingly in women, the risks were much less, with the corresponding figures being 4.1 per cent and 8.7 per cent. It was also noted that in men, 81 per cent of the cancer associated with hypercalcaemia was caused by lung, prostate, myeloma, colorectal and other hematological cancers. But, in women, cancer was very less prevalent.
The variation in the occurrence of cancer was surprising remarked Dr. Hamilton. He said that we thought about a number of possible explanations. We concluded that it might be because women are much more likely to have hyperparathyroidism, another cause of hypercalcaemia. This condition is rare in men, so their hypercalcaemia is more likely to be due to cancer.
The successful completion of this research programme can transform the diagnosis of cancer and prevent hundreds of unnecessary deaths each year. The main objective of the research programme objectives is to design and test new service pathways that can lead to early diagnosis of cancer. These service pathways should be based on sound medical evidence and must make efficient use of resources to take full account of patient views.
This research is part of the Discovery Programme which aims to transform the diagnosis of cancer and hence prevent hundreds of unnecessary deaths each year. It is being carried out in partnership with NHS trusts and six Universities, a group of the UK’s leading researchers into primary care cancer diagnostics are working together in a five year programme.