A SIMPLE blood test that has been shown to detect lung cancer at an early stage has been hailed for its “globally significant implications” after a major trial in Scotland.

The test identifies the presence of antibodies generated by the body’s immune system to combat cancer cells and allows doctors to identify potential cases of lung cancer long before the patient is showing any symptoms of the disease.

It means the cancer can be picked up and treated much earlier, substantially improving patients’ chances of survival.

It was trialled in what is believed to be the world’s largest study of its kind, involving 12,208 people from Glasgow and Tayside at high-risk of lung cancer.

Participants aged 50 to 75 were recruited from GP practices in deprived communities and all were current or former smokers. Some also had a family history of lung cancer.

READ MORE: More women than men diagnosed with lung cancer in Scotland for first time 

They were randomly split between two groups. The first were given X-rays and CT scans only if symptoms emerged. This can include a persistent cough, coughing up blood, weight loss or chest pain.

The second group were given the blood test at the outset. Those with a positive result were offered immediate X-ray and CT scans, with follow-up scans every six months.

Over the two-year period of the study, a total of 71 people in the control group were diagnosed with lung cancer, and 56 in the blood test group.

However, late-stage diagnoses were “significantly lower” in the test group. In the group that underwent the blood test, 41 per cent were diagnosed at stages one or two, compared to only 27% in the control group.

Lifelong smoker Rebecca Allison, 69, from Glasgow, was among those who had a positive blood test.

She said: “I had no symptoms whatsoever. It was only 20 months later than a CT scan showed I had cancer.

“I’m now cancer-free and I feel fantastic. If I hadn’t had that blood test I would never have known.”

Early detection is key, as some 60% of patients diagnosed at stage 1 are still alive five years later, compared to only 1% at stage four.

READ MORE: Poorest Scots much more likely to be diagnosed with lung cancer at stage 4

The Early Detection of Cancer of the Lung Scotland study was led by Professor Frank Sullivan, an expert in primary care medicine at St Andrews University. He will present the findings today at the World Conference on Lung Cancer in Barcelona.

Mr Sullivan said: “These landmark findings are likely to have globally significant implications for the early detection of lung cancer by showing how a simple blood test, followed by CT scans, is able to increase the number of patients diagnosed at an earlier stage of the disease, when surgery is still possible and prospects for survival much higher.”

Although further studies are required, researchers believe it offers a potential diagnostic tool that could reduce by as much as two-thirds the amount of radiotherapy imaging needed to detect genuine lung cancer cases.

The test, known as EarlyCDT Lung Test, has been developed and patented by Nottingham-based biotech firm Oncimmune. The firm is also testing the technology as a potential early-detection tool for liver, ovarian, breast and prostate cancer.

Scientists have previously investigated low-dose CT scanning could be used as a routine screening tool to detect lung cancer early, but the technique is expensive and more than 90% of the “tumours” detected turned out to be harmless growths.

The blood test is much cheaper, non-invasive and has much higher accuracy rate.

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Lung cancer is the most common form of the disease in Scotland and accounts for one-quarter of all cancer deaths, claiming more than 4,000 lives in 2017. Scotland also has one of the poorest survival rates from lung cancer in Europe – only Bulgaria and Wales are worse.

Based on cases diagnosed between 2007-2011, 9% of males and 11% of females in Scotland were still alive five years later.That compares to 12% and 16% respectively for men and women in Europe, on average.

Welcoming the findings of the research, Joseph Carter, head of the British Lung Foundation Scotland, said: “An accurate blood test would be a game-changing moment for lung cancer diagnosis. This test could turn the tide against lung cancer, potentially saving thousands of lives every year and giving more people the chance of a cure.”

Sara Hiom, Cancer Research UK’s director of early diagnosis, said: “We hope that one day this could help doctors to know who is at greatest risk from lung cancer much sooner, and give them CT scans. The next steps will be to test this in more people.”

Adam Hill, chief executive at Oncimmune, said: “We look forward to working with health authorities in Scotland and beyond to introduce EarlyCDT Lung more widely, with the aim of saving lives and reducing costs for the NHS and other healthcare systems around the world.”

The ECLS study was co-funded by the Scottish Chief Scientist Office, Scottish Government and Oncimmune.