A universal blood test to detect cancer developed by scientists at the UK's University of Bradford is showing promise in trials, raising hopes for a more efficient means of diagnosing the disease.

The lymphocyte genome sensitivity (LGS) test was designed on the principle that the genome of white blood cells of cancer patients is subtly different from that in healthy individuals, even in the earliest stages of the disease. The test is able to detect these differences by measuring the sensitivity of white blood cells to damage from ultraviolet radiation. 

While still in the early stages, a study involving 208 people and three different cancer types (colon, lung and melanoma), published in the journal FASEB, has shown "remarkable results", lead researcher Diana Anderson told the media, including the ability to distinguish those patients with pre-cancerous conditions.

According to Oncascan, which holds an exclusive worldwide licence to the patents and know-how associated with the lymphocyte genome sensitivity invention, if development is successful the test will be used to indicate, "with a high degree of certainty", that a given patient does not have cancer, thus saving them from having further unnecessary and potentially invasive tests. But in the longer term, it could even be used as a cost-effective way to screen an entire population, the firm said.

However, adding a note of caution, Anthea Martin, Cancer Research UK's science information manager, said that while the study's findings are interesting, "there are still a lot of unanswered questions about this test and much bigger studies are needed to prove whether it could be useful for diagnosing cancer on a wider scale," reports BBC News Online.