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How laboratory tests can diagnose cancer in the blood

September is Blood Cancer Awareness month. You may be surprised to learn that more people die from blood cancer than breast cancer and prostate cancer. One of the reasons for this is that Doctors often ‘confuse’ symptoms with other less serious illnesses, such as viral infections. Shockingly, 33% of people with blood cancer are only diagnosed after they are admitted to hospital as emergency patients.

There are 130 different blood cancers, but the three main ones are leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma. Blood cancers occurs when something goes wrong with the development of blood cells, either they stop working properly or they grow out of control. It can be tricky for Doctors to spot the symptoms and request the appropriate laboratory tests that can help secure an early diagnosis.

Your doctor may order a certain cancer blood test or other laboratory tests, such as an analysis of urine or a biopsy of a suspicious area to help guide the diagnosis. With the exception of blood cancers, blood tests generally cannot absolutely tell whether cancer is evident but it will give the doctor clues about what is going on inside the body.

Sadly, many GP’s don’t request these tests quickly enough. The charity Leukaemia CARE estimates that around 1000 lives could be saved each year with early diagnosis, and in 2015 they worked alongside the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) to develop an online training course to help train GP’s to spot blood cancer earlier.

What tests should your Doctor be doing?

Samples collected for cancer blood tests are analysed in a laboratory for signs of cancer which may show cancer cells, proteins or other substances made by the cancer. Blood tests can also help your doctor understand how well your organs are functioning and if they have been affected by cancer. Examples of blood tests used to diagnose cancer include:-

• Complete Blood Count (CBC)

This is a common blood test which measures the amount of various types of blood cells in a sample from which blood cancers may be detected if too many or too few of a type of cell or abnormal cells are found. A bone marrow biopsy may also confirm a diagnosis either way.

• Blood Protein Testing

This examines various proteins in the blood and can aid detection of certain abnormal immune system proteins (immunoglobulins) that are sometimes elevated in people suffering with multiple myeloma. Similarly, a bone marrow biopsy can help confirm the diagnosis either way.

• Tumour Marker Tests

Tumour markers are chemicals made by tumour calls that can be detected in the blood. They are also produced by some normal calls and the levels may be significantly elevated in non-cancerous conditions which limits the potential for diagnosing cancer. Only in extremely rare circumstances would such a test be considered sufficient to firmly diagnose cancer.
Examples of tumour markers include prostate – specific antigen (PSA) for prostate cancer; cancer antigen 125 (CA-125) for ovarian cancer; calcitonin for medullary thyroid cancer; alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) for live cancer and human chronic gonadotropin (HCG) for germ cell tumours such as testicular cancer and ovarian cancer.

• Circulating Tumour Cell Tests

These tests are quite recent and being used to detect cells that have broken away from an original cancer site and are floating in the blood stream. Did your Doctor failed you?

Your Doctor may have failed you in a number of ways. They may have missed or misinterpreted your symptoms, perhaps believing it to be a less serious illness. They may have proceeded to undertake some tests, but misinterpreted the results leading to a delay in diagnosis and treatment. They may have delayed in referring you to a specialist, or delayed in carrying out a biopsy. In some cases, patients can be misdiagnosed as having cancer (when they do not), which can result in them having to endure difficult and painful treatment, such as unnecessary chemotherapy.

All of these situations can give rise to a claim for medical negligence.

Morgan Jones Pett Solicitors deal with medical negligence compensation claims for any type of cancer where your health care provider may have failed you to the point of being negligent. Cases where we have acted for clients include:

• Colon and bowel cancer • Cervical cancer • Prostate cancer • Lung cancer • Leukaemia • Lymphoma

Contact me if you would like to discuss in total confidence and I will be happy to advise: email: or telephone 01603 877002.


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Morgan Jones & Pett Ltd is a company registered in England and Wales Registered No: 06236869. Registered office at: 18-20 Prince of Wales Road, Norwich, Norfolk, NR1 1LB. Authorised and Regulated by: The Solicitors Regulation Authority registration: 569813.