Scientists have discovered a marker in the blood that could predict the risk of developing kidney cancer.

The research, supported by Cancer Research UK, the IARC and the NIH, found that measuring levels of the protein KIM-1 could determine whether a person is at risk of developing kidney cancer in the following five years.

The findings also suggest that the higher the concentration of KIM-1 the greater the their risk of developing the disease.

The researchers believe that in future KIM-1 levels could be used with imaging to either confirm kidney cancer or rule out the disease.

“This work is a big step forward; KIM-1 is the only blood biomarker shown prospectively to distinguish between people at high and low risk of kidney cancer. But there’s a lot more work to do before we could envisage this in the clinic,” said Dr David Muller, Cancer Research UK-funded co-first author based at Imperial College London.

“The next steps are to look more closely at whether KIM-1 levels can help detect tumours that have a good prognosis, so those at an early stage, and to find out if it could be used as a tool to track whether a patient’s treatment is working.”

As with all cancer the earlier the diagnosis the greater the chance of treatment success: when diagnosed at its earliest stage, the five-year survival rate is more than 80 percent. However, currently more than than four in 10 cases in England are diagnosed at a late stage, at which point the survival rate is much lower at 10 percent, notes CR UK.

The figures highlight much room for improvement, but diagnosing the disease at an early stage is difficult given that there are no symptoms in the majority of cases.

Early-stage diagnosis is often the results of imaging for other health conditions, so effective blood tests “could become powerful tools in the clinic,” said Professor Charles Swanton, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician.

“There is a pressing need to shift kidney cancer diagnoses towards earlier stages, when treatment is more likely to be successful, and this promising research is progress towards that goal,” he added.