British scientists say a simple bowel cancer test could save thousands of lives by spotting the deadliest tumours.
They say patients who are most likely to develop a more virulent strain of the disease could be identified by a test which looks for a marker stem cell protein called Lamin A.
Lamin A pinpoints aggressive bowel cancers which need the most treatment and the researchers from Durham University have developed a test which looks for the marker in order to identify which patients need be given chemotherapy in addition to standard surgery to improve survival.
The team now aims to develop a Lamin A-based detection test for use in the health service which could be on the market in five years.
Bowel cancer is one of the most common cancer and causes 677,000 deaths worldwide each year; almost three quarters of cases occur in people aged 65 and over and it is slightly more common in women than men.
In this age group chemotherapy is often not used as it could cause more harm than benefit in patients who are elderly and frail but for the most aggressive cancers, chemotherapy can be beneficial.
The team were able to identify the culprit marker by studying tissue samples from 700 bowel cancer patients and tracking their progress.
They discovered that patients who had the stem cell marker protein Lamin A present in their tissue were more likely to have an aggressive form of the disease.
The say their findings suggest that around one third of bowel cancer patients will have the Lamin A stem cell marker and should be considered for chemotherapy.
Study co-author Professor Chris Hutchison, of Durham University and North East England Stem Cell Institute, says at present hospitals use a standard test to work out how far the cancer has progressed which is used to determine the treatment the patient should receive.
Professor Hutchison they are now potentially able to more accurately predict who would benefit from chemotherapy.
Bowel cancer experts say chemotherapy can be very useful but can have a number of side effects, so test will help determine when it should be used.
Cancer research organisations say there is a desperate need for more effective treatments for bowel cancer and the problem is exacerbated by identifying which cancers need which treatments and help decide the best treatment for an individual patient.
The research is published in the scientific journal PLoS ONE.