Study: Blood Test Could Detect Breast Cancer 5 Years Before Signs Appear

Jia Ling

Nottingham researchers had recently made a claim that a blood test to detect breast cancer is possible—in fact, five years before clinical signs appear in patients.

The claim is based on their research which was presented at the recent National Cancer Research Institute conference that is held annually in Glasgow, with the focus on chemicals known as antigens. 

Blood Test To Detect Breast Cancer: The Human Body’s Defense

According to the study from the Nottingham University’s School of Medicine, as reported by The Guardian, these antigens are said to be produced by cancer cells that trigger an immune response in the human body. 

As a result, the body creates auto-antibodies to defend itself to tackle these invading antigens.

It all started when the researchers wanted to know if they could detect specific auto-antibodies in patients, and prove if they had indeed been triggered by antigens from tumour cells. 

This then lead to further testing.

Photo: istock

Blood samples were taken from 90 patients newly diagnosed with breast cancer. The samples were then compared with a control group of 90 patients without breast cancer.

 

Promising Results On Possibility To Detecting Early Breast Cancer

The group proceeded to screen the blood samples to see if they could detect auto-antibodies triggered by tumour antigens.

The results showed that they correctly identified breast cancer in 37% of blood samples taken from affected patients. More importantly, they were able to show that there was no cancer in 79% of samples from the control group, according to the report.

With this, the researchers were able to show that breast cancer does induce auto-antibodies against specific tumour-associated antigens, according to Daniyah Alfattani, one of the Nottingham team.

While it is definitely “encouraging” knowing these tumour-associated antigens are good indicators of cancer research, Warwick University molecular oncologist Prof Lawrence Young said: “it is too soon to claim this test could be used to screen for early breast cancer”.

Further development and validation of the test of early detection of cancer is still required, according to the cancer expert.

The Nottingham team is now testing samples from 800 patients and expect the accuracy of the test to improve with these larger numbers.

Photo: iStock

Mammography Vs Blood Test To Screen For Breast Cancer

According to the Singapore Cancer Society, the mammogram is currently the most reliable screening tool for breast cancer.

The presence of cancerous lumps can be detected even before they can be felt physically with the hand. 

However, with this new research on blood test to detect breast cancer, it presents an alternative screening method to detecting breast cancer.

“A blood test for early breast cancer detection would be cost effective, which would be of particular value in low and middle-income countries. It would also be an easier screening method to implement compared with current methods, such as mammography,” said Alfattani.

Good news for all, for the researchers have estimated that with a fully funded development programme, the test might become available in the clinic in about four to five years.

 

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