Cookies on this website
We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Continue' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

Research from Dr Brian Nicholson and colleagues outlines how routine clinical tests could be widely used to estimate the risk of cancer for people visiting their GPs with unexpected weight loss.

Blood test tubes

Unexpected weight loss (UWL) is often one of the first noticeable symptoms of a broad range of cancers. However, there are many other non-cancer reasons for UWL, and only about 2 in 100 people with UWL will go on to receive a cancer diagnosis. As such, it’s important, for both patients and health service providers, to be able to identify those patients for whom cancer is a real possibility and treat them appropriately. Conversely, it’s important that patients for which UWL is unlikely to be linked to cancer are spared over-investigation, potential misdiagnosis, and the wider impacts on their lives of receiving a cancer diagnosis.

Dr Brian Nicholson and colleagues from the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Science’s Cancer Research Group analysed the electronic health records of 63,693 people in the England who visited their GP with UWL between January 2000 and December 2012, combining symptoms and test results to predict their risk of a cancer diagnosis within 6 months.

The research showed that the combined risk scores developed were superior in ruling in or out cancer than the more traditional symptoms-only based approach commonly used. However, the researchers note that further research is required to validate these findings in different datasets and populations.


What’s different about our study is that we were able to incorporate information from blood tests into the decision-making process, this allowed us to identify the impact these tests are likely to have in detecting those individuals that go on to develop cancer. - Co-author and Professor of Medical Statistics Dr Rafael Perera, also from the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, University of Oxford.

In an accompanying editorial the editors note that the research “clearly demonstrate[s] innovation in the use of routine clinical tools at scale. This type of model could potentially be scaled-up in under-resourced settings.”


We’re delighted to have had our paper included in this special collection, alongside five others from leaders in cancer detection across the world. - Dr Brian Nicholson, practising GP and Academic Clinical Lecturer at the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, University of Oxford.

 The research was published in PLOS Medicine and was featured in a PLOS Medicine editorial to the special issue.

Read the full story on the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences website.

Similar Stories

New genetic study confirms that alcohol is a direct cause of cancer

New data from a large-scale genetic study led by Oxford researchers confirms that alcohol directly causes cancer.

New blood-based test is the first ever to simultaneously identify if a patient has cancer and if it has spread

A publication by University of Oxford researchers describes a new minimally invasive and inexpensive blood test that can identify cancer in patients with non-specific symptoms. The early success of this technology makes it the first blood-based test that not only detects cancer in this population but can simultaneously identify if a cancer has spread.

Medical imaging 'flight simulator' spun out as new company & training tool

Radiologists at Oxford University Hospitals (OUH) NHS Foundation Trust & University of Oxford have set up a new company aimed at helping to improve the interpretation of medical imaging by clinicians, for many conditions including cancer.