Hypercalcaemia a Key Tool for Early Diagnosis of Certain Types of Cancers

First Posted: Sep 26, 2014 05:35 AM EDT

A new study has revealed that high levels of calcium in the blood can be used as a key tool for early diagnosis of certain types of cancer.

Hypercalcaemia refers to the abnormally high levels of calcium in the bloodstream and normally occurs in advanced cancers, like multiple myeloma, lung cancer or breast cancer. This condition occurs in nearly 10-20 percent of the people with cancer. Due to this imbalance of calcium people suffer from drowsiness, confusion, constipation, dehydration, vomiting and a few other symptoms.

Previous researches have highlighted the association between cancer and hypercalcaemia. But, researchers at the University of Bristol have for the first time shown how this condition can help predate the diagnosis of cancer in primary care.

Dr Fergus Hamilton, who led the research from the Centre for Academic Primary Care at the University of Bristol, said: "All previous studies on hypercalcaemia and cancer had been carried out with patients who had already been diagnosed with cancer - hypercalcaemia 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."

For this, the team evaluated the electronic records of over 54,000 patients who were diagnosed with high calcium levels and checked the number of people who went and received a cancer diagnosis. They noticed in men, even mild hypercalcaemia i.e. 2.6-2.8 mmol I-1 led to risk of cancer in a year of 11. 5 percent. The risk further increased by 28 percent if the levels of calcium was above 2.8 mmol I-1. Whereas the risk was much lower in women, with just 4.1 percent and 8.7 percent, respectively.

Apart from this, it was observed that nearly 81 percent of the cancers linked with hypercalaaemia was due to lung prostate, myeloma, colorectal and other haematological cancers. In women, cancer was less common.

Dr 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 hypercalcaemia. Men rarely get this condition, so their hypercalcaemia is more likely to be due to cancer."

The finding was published in the British Journal of Cancer. 

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