Early diagnosis is a challenge in bladder cancer, which often grows rapidly. Blood in the urine is a common symptom, but it also can signal less serious conditions and patients frequently dismiss it until the disease has progressed. The study involved 134 male bladder cancer patients and 84 healthy men. The test correctly identified cancer in 90 percent of the patients and ruled it out appropriately in healthy men almost as often, the AP reports.
Bladder cancer occurs in men much more often than women; whites, smokers and people aged 65 and older also are disproportionately affected. More than 60,000 new cases are diagnosed each year in the United States alone. About 20 percent of patients die each year but survival chances are good with early detection, the researchers said.
The new test detects urine levels of telomerase, or what is sometimes called the "immortalizing enzyme" because it enables cancer cells to keep growing indefinitely. Telomerase is present in almost all human cancer cells but only rarely in non-cancerous cells, and burgeoning research is investigating ways to use it as a target for both diagnosing and treating cancer, said Jerry Shay, a cancer researcher at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.
Telomerase appears relatively late in some cancers but early in bladder cancer, making it a good target for early detection, he said.
The Italian researchers said larger studies are needed but that they envision the test as a potential screening tool for people at high risk for bladder cancer, including smokers and those with symptoms. The cancer is not common enough to recommend universal screening, said the researchers whose goal is to use the test to help spot patients who need more invasive testing. A.M.