Cancer research is one of the most important but also most complicated field of modern medicine. One recent breakthrough may end up being very significant against one of the most common types of cancer that are plaguing women around the globe. On November 3, 2019, researchers discovered a new blood test that might be able to detect breast cancer 5 years in advance.
The research was published at the National Cancer Research Institute’s (NCRI) annual conference and was presented under the title Simple blood test for early detection of breast cancer (1).
How does it work?
Preliminary findings showed antibodies could be used to detect breast cancer. The idea behind this discovery is that our immune system tends to “flag” tumors it finds in our body with antigens. They, in turn, stimulate the production of more antibodies which circulate the body in search of other problems. Furthermore, antibodies are often disease-specific and”search” for particular problems, especially after repeated exposure. (2)
So, what the researchers from the University of Nottingham found was that we could develop our own antigens artificially and outside of the human body and use antibodies in blood tests. This way, we could test patients’ blood for the presence of breast cancer-specific antibodies and test them against the artificially created antigens. If the test comes out positive then the patient has breast cancer antibodies which means that they are likely to soon develop breast cancer.
The researchers tested their hypothesis with the technology they had at the Center of Excellence for Autoimmunity in Cancer, Nottingham School of Medicine. The results of the preliminary tests showed that antigens correctly detected breast cancer in 37% of the samples and correctly identified 84% of the control samples as being cancer-free.
Of course, both of these percentages still need to get a lot higher but at this early stage of testing, they are more than promising. Ph.D. student and project-lead Daniyah Alfattani commented:
“We need to develop and further validate this test…However, these results are encouraging and indicate that it’s possible to detect a signal for early breast cancer.”
According to some experts, if refined well-enough this test may be able to detect breast cancer 5 years before it shows any symptoms.
Could this test replace the mammogram?
While the research is still in its early days, if it continues developing as promisingly as it has until now, this blood test might one day replace the mammogram as the main tool for detecting breast cancer.
The mammogram is a low-energy x-ray that’s done on breast tissue that looks for abnormalities in it. It is currently viewed by the medical community as one of the best methods to detect early breast cancer. Some of the drawbacks from this technology is that it exposes the patients to very small doses of radiation and can be expensive. In addition, it can result in some false positives or false negatives which can either mean needless and painful biopsies or missed cancers.
If this new blood test becomes successful it can offer a cheaper, easier, less harmful, and more accurate alternative to the mammogram.
The next testing is scheduled for 2020 and will include over 800 patients. If it’s at least as successful as the first test, it will likely lead to even more research and experiments.