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Routine blood work could detect breast cancer up to five years before symptoms

Researchers believe this would be a much simpler testing method than current practices

Photo (c) fotoquique - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers at the National Cancer Research Institute found that a routine blood test could detect breast cancer in patients up to five years before any signs or symptoms pop up. 

The researchers explained that the blood tests could determine if a patient has tumor-associated antigens (TAAs), which are commonly associated with different strands of cancer or other diseases. By implementing this testing method, doctors would be able to detect and treat the disease much earlier. 

“The results of our study showed that breast cancer does induce autoantibodies against panels of specific tumor-associated antigens,” said researcher Daniyah Alfattani. “We were able to detect cancer with reasonable accuracy by identifying these autoantibodies in the blood.” 

The benefits of early detection

To determine how effective a blood test would be at catching breast cancer in its earliest stages, the researchers compared blood test results of 90 breast cancer patients when they first received their diagnosis with 90 study participants who had not been diagnosed with the disease. 

The blood test was effective in differentiating between the participants who had breast cancer and those who didn’t. The researchers found that their diagnoses were the most accurate when more TAAs were incorporated into the tests. 

While a test that included five TAAs accurately detected breast cancer 29 percent of the time, increasing that figure to nine TAAs led to nearly 40 percent accuracy in detecting breast cancer. Using those same TAAs, the tests were accurate in identifying patients without cancer 84 percent and 79 percent of the time, respectively. 

Simple and valuable tests

These results were encouraging for countless reasons, chief among them being that blood tests are a simple medical procedure; they would be easy to administer for medical professionals and easy to endure for patients. However, the researchers also identified more practical reasons this testing method would be valuable. 

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

As more work is done to improve how cancer is detected in patients, the researchers hope their work will help healthcare professionals see the benefit in adopting this testing method after some fine tuning. 

“We need to develop and further validate this test,” said Alfattani. “However, these results are encouraging and indicate that it’s possible to detect a signal for early breast cancer. Once we have improved the accuracy of the test, then it opens the possibility of using a simple blood test to improve early detection of the disease.” 

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