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Study: Hypercalcemia Blood Test Could Be Used for Early Cancer Diagnosis

Authors see practical application in primary care

Hypercalcemia is the most common metabolic disorder associated with cancer, occurring in 10% to 20% of people with the disease. While its connection to cancer is well known, a new study from the University of Bristol in the U.K. has shown that often it can predate the diagnosis of cancer in primary care.

A simple blood test could identify those with hypercalcemia, prompting doctors to investigate further, a new study suggests.

The research, published in the British Journal of Cancer, analyzed the electronic records of 54,000 patients who had elevated levels of calcium and looked at how many of them went on to receive a cancer diagnosis.

Lead investigator Dr. Fergus Hamilton said: “All previous studies on hypercalcemia and cancer had been carried out with patients who had already been diagnosed with cancer — hypercalcemia was seen as a late effect of the cancer.

“We 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 authors found that in men, even mild hypercalcemia (2.6 to 2.8 mmol/L) conferred a risk of cancer in 1 year of 11.5%. If the calcium level was greater than 2.8? mmol/L, the risk increased to 28%. In women, the risks were much less, with the corresponding figures being 4.1% and 8.7%.

In men, 81% of the cancers associated with hypercalcemia were lung, prostate, myeloma, colorectal, or other hematologic malignancies. In women, cancer was much less common.

Hamilton added: “We were surprised by the gender difference. There are a number of possible explanations for this, but we think it might be because women are much more likely to have hyperparathyroidism, another cause of hypercalcemia. Men rarely get this condition, so their hypercalcemia is more likely to be due to cancer.”

Source: University of Bristol; September 25, 2014.

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