Giving blood and tissue samples

Blood and body tissue samples are vital for cancer research. This page is about giving samples as part of a trial. There is information about

Blood and tissue samples in cancer research

Many developments in cancer treatment come from doctors and researchers looking at blood and tumour (tissue) samples in the laboratory.
Researchers call these biosamples and they use them to learn more about:
  • how cancers develop so they can find new ways to prevent them
  • changes in hormones, chemicals or cells to help find new ways to diagnose cancer
  • how cancer cells behave so they can find new ways to kill them
  • what happens to cancer cells when they are exposed to new treatments
  • which treatments work best for people with particular types of cancer
  • better ways of controlling side effects and symptoms

When samples are collected

The research team need to take blood or tissue samples before you start treatment, to make sure the trial is suitable for you. Many clinical trials are designed to test treatments for people with a specific type of cancer. And some are designed to test treatments that only work for people with cancers that produce certain proteins or chemical markers.
Some clinical trials also include plans to collect samples of blood or tissue for future research. This is nearly always optional. If it is optional and you decide you don’t want the researchers to keep any blood or tissue samples, you can still take part in the main trial.
People who do not have cancer, or any other illness, may also be asked to donate blood or tissue samples. Researchers can use these to find differences between healthy cells and cancer cells.
Before your doctor or nurse takes a blood or tissue sample for research, they will always ask your permission and ask you to sign a form. Before you do this, they should give you written information about what will happen to your sample. They should also answer any questions you have.

Types of body tissue samples

Researchers can use several different types of tissue samples to help with their research. These include:
  • small samples of tumours from biopsies or surgery
  • blood samples
  • fluids removed using a needle and syringe from body cavities, joints, abscesses or cysts
  • body fluids, such as urine, spit (sputum), saliva and tears
  • cells from skin, hair, nails, the inside of the mouth, the eye, or the neck of the womb (cervix)

What happens to your sample

Researchers store samples in laboratories called biobanks. These are like libraries. They keep the samples with some details of your medical history, but no personal details. The samples cannot be traced back to you. A computer stores the medical information about each sample, so that researchers can find the samples they need.
The Human Tissue Authority (HTA) produces guidelines for the safe storage of tissue samples. They also give advice about making sure the samples are kept confidentially. You can read about their work and about donating tissue for research on their website.

Related information


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Please note - unless we state otherwise in the summary, you need to talk to your doctor about joining a trial.

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