New blood test detects breast cancer five years before first symptoms

New blood test detects breast cancer five years before first symptoms

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Simple blood test for early detection of breast cancer

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women today. The earlier cancer is discovered, the greater the chances of recovery. A study has now shown that a new blood test can detect breast cancer up to five years before the first symptoms.

In a new study, breast cancer could be detected using a blood test up to five years before there were clinical signs. The test identifies the body's immune response to substances that are produced by tumor cells. The scientific investigation was presented at the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) conference on Sunday.

Search for autoantibodies

As the NCRI said in a statement, cancer cells produce proteins called antigens that cause the body to make antibodies against them - autoantibodies. Researchers who are part of the Center of Excellence for Autoimmunity in Cancer (CEAC) group at the School of Medicine, University of Nottingham (UK), have found that these tumor-associated antigens (TAAs) are good indicators of cancer. Now they have developed TAAs panels that are known to be associated with breast cancer to determine whether or not autoantibodies against them are present in patients' blood samples.

In a pilot study, the researchers took blood samples from 90 breast cancer patients when they were diagnosed with breast cancer and compared them with samples from 90 patients without breast cancer (control group). They used a screening technology (protein microarray) that allowed them to quickly screen blood samples for autoantibodies against 40 breast cancer-associated TAAs and 27 TAAs that were not known to be associated with the disease.

Ms. Daniyah Alfattani, a doctoral student in the research group, presented the results at the NCRI conference: “The results of our study showed that breast cancer induces autoantibodies against panels of specific tumor-associated antigens. By identifying these autoantibodies in the blood, we have been able to detect cancer with reasonable accuracy. ”

Test could be up and running in five years

The researchers identified three TAAs panels on which autoantibodies should be tested. The accuracy of the test improved in the panels that contained more TAAs. The panel of five TAAs correctly identified breast cancer in 29 percent of the cancer patient's samples and correctly identified 84 percent of the control samples as cancer-free. The panel of seven TAAs correctly identified cancer in 35 percent of the cancer samples and identified 79 percent of the control samples as cancer-free. The panel of nine antigens recognized cancer in 37 percent of cancer samples and correctly identified 79 percent of controls as cancer-free.

"We need to further develop and validate this test," said Ms. Alfattani. “However, these results are encouraging and show that it is possible to recognize a signal for early breast cancer. As soon as we improve the accuracy of the test, there is an opportunity to use a simple blood test to improve the early detection of the disease, ”said the scientist.

“A blood test for the early detection of breast cancer would be inexpensive and of particular value in low and middle income countries. Compared to current methods such as mammography, this would also be an easier screening method, ”said Alfattani. The researchers estimate that the test could be available for clinical use in about four to five years with a fully funded development program.

Similar tests for other cancers

A similar test for lung cancer is currently being tested in a randomized, controlled trial in Scotland involving 12,000 people at high risk of developing lung cancer because of smoking. They were randomized to do an autoantibody blood test called ELISA (Early CDT-Lung). Subjects who tested positive for autoantibodies will then undergo a CT scan every two years to identify lung cancer at an early stage when it is easier to treat.

The CEAC group is also working on similar tests for pancreatic, colon and liver cancer. Solid tumors like this, as well as lung and breast cancer, make up about 70 percent of all cancers. "A blood test that is able to detect these types of cancer early is the overriding goal of our work," concluded Ms. Alfattani.

Dr. Iain Frame, director general of the NCRI, said: “Early diagnoses with simple, non-invasive methods to detect the first signs of cancer are of central strategic importance for the NCRI and we all want them to work in practice. The results of this pilot study for a blood test for the early detection of breast cancer are promising and build on the expertise of this research group in other types of cancer such as lung cancer. It is obviously early, but we are looking forward to the results of the larger group of patients currently under investigation. ”(Ad)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • National Cancer Research Institute: Press release: Simple blood test for early detection of breast cancer, (accessed: November 3, 2019), National Cancer Research Institute

Video: Do Doctors Perform Blood Work After a Breast Cancer Diagnosis? (October 2022).