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Blood test could detect breast cancer in the future [Print to PDF] [Print to RTF]

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and scientists from the University of Leicester and Imperial College London in the United Kingdom have announced that one day a blood test could very well be used to screen for breast cancer.

Across the world, more than 1 million cas...
Blood test could detect breast cancer in the future
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and scientists from the University of Leicester and Imperial College London in the United Kingdom have announced that one day a blood test could very well be used to screen for breast cancer.

Across the world, more than 1 million cases of breast cancer are diagnosed each year. In the European Union, a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer every 2.5 minutes while every 7.5 minutes a woman dies from the disease. Since the 1980s, breast cancer survival rates have however risen. This is in part due to earlier detection as a result of greater awareness and breast screening, as well as better access to treatment following surgery.

Currently there are a few methods to test for breast cancer: a breast exam where a doctor can check for lumps or abnormalities; a mammogram (using X-rays to examine the breast); a breast ultrasound; a biopsy; or lastly, breast magnetic resonance imaging which uses an MRI machine. These methods, however, can be uncomfortable or painful, and may deter women from having future tests.

The researchers hope that these tests could be replaced by a blood test, which could be a more accurate way to test for the early signs of breast cancer than using mammograms to spot a lump. This blood test hinges on them determining whether DNA in blood could show early signs of cancer. The test could also potentially improve treatment by detecting whether breast cancer patients are likely to relapse, and what drugs their particular type of tumour will respond to.

'This exciting research means we could one day have a blood test that detects the very early signs of cancer, meaning women could have an annual blood test rather than breast screening. This would remove any worry and anxiety for women who are called for further investigations after a mammogram, only to find they don't have cancer,' said Dr Jacqui Shaw, principal investigator from the University of Leicester.

'As things stand, we aren't able to monitor breast cancer patients after they've had surgery and treatment - which is like treating diabetes but not measuring blood sugar levels. The new blood test could change that,' she added.

The researchers are set to undertake a clinical study at the United Kingdom's largest breast screening clinic at Charing Cross Hospital, London. There, they will take blood samples from women attending the breast-screening clinic, and compare DNA from those diagnosed with breast cancer with DNA from disease-free women, to see what markers are consistent.

Professor Charles Coombes, co-investigator and Cancer Research UK's breast cancer expert from Imperial College, spoke about the importance of their study. 'This type of translational science is extremely promising and the international scientific community is collaborating on its development. When a woman has breast cancer, we can tell by the DNA in their blood. But what we're trying to find out in our study is how early the signs of breast cancer show up in a blood test. So by looking at blood samples of women who have breast cancer diagnosed through screening, we can see if the cancer is already showing in their blood,' he said.

He went on to add that their findings could be applied to tests for other cancers. 'Our research team is only looking at breast cancer, but there are a number of other projects that are looking at using a blood test to detect other cancers such as bowel and lung.'

The research was funded by Cancer Research UK, in collaboration with the University of Leicester and Imperial College London. Kate Law, director of clinical research at Cancer Research UK, was upbeat about the great potential their research has: 'We really do hope that in the not too distant future, a simple blood test for breast cancer, which could not only detect cancer but help with treatment options, will become standard practice on the NHS [National Health Service].'

'Cancer Research UK has invested over a million pounds into this project, as this fascinating area of science could prove to be a huge step forward in the way certain types of cancer are diagnosed and treated,' she concluded.
Source: University of Leicester

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Record Number: 35094 / Last updated on: 2012-10-04
Category: Miscellaneous
Provider: EC