Patients living with brain tumours have the highest average years of life lost of any cancer, ultimately reducing average life expectancy by 20 years. Diagnosis depends on brain imaging and most often confirmatory tissue biopsy for histology. The majority of patients experience non-specific symptoms, such as headache, and may be reviewed in primary care on multiple occasions before diagnosis is made. Sixty-two per cent of patients are diagnosed on brain imaging performed when they deteriorate and present to the emergency department. Histological diagnosis from invasive surgical biopsy is necessary prior to definitive treatment, because imaging techniques alone have difficulty in distinguishing between several types of brain cancer. However, surgery itself does not necessarily control tumour growth, and risks morbidity for the patient. Due to their similar features on brain scans, glioblastoma, primary central nervous system lymphoma and brain metastases have been known to cause radiological confusion. Non-invasive tests that support stratification of tumour subtype would enhance early personalisation of treatment selection and reduce the delay and risks associated with surgery for many patients. Techniques involving vibrational spectroscopy, such as attenuated total reflection Fourier transform infrared (ATR-FTIR) spectroscopy, have previously demonstrated analytical capabilities for cancer diagnostics. In this study, infrared spectra from 641 blood serum samples obtained from brain cancer and control patients have been collected. Firstly, we highlight the capability of ATR-FTIR to distinguish between healthy controls and brain cancer at sensitivities and specificities above 90%, before defining subtle differences in protein secondary structures between patient groups through Amide I deconvolution. We successfully differentiate several types of brain lesions (glioblastoma, meningioma, primary central nervous system lymphoma and metastasis) with balanced accuracies >80%. A reliable blood serum test capable of stratifying brain tumours in secondary care could potentially avoid surgery and speed up the time to definitive therapy, which would be of great value for both neurologists and patients.
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