A blood test that can detect breast cancer

Breast cancer survival rates could dramatically increase due to a blood test that detects the disease before symptoms appear

Checking your breasts for unusual lumps or, if you’re a woman between the ages of 50 and 70, having a routine screening every three years on the NHS, is the only way to detect early signs of breast cancer.

But following a recent study, researchers are confident this may change in the future.

A new blood test that detects cancer more than a year before any symptoms appear could dramatically improve survival rates.

The test works by searching for raised levels of a certain protein that is known to increase once cancer has developed in the body.

The study, carried out by scientists at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre in Seattle, found that the protein called epidermal growth factor receptor was already detectable up to 17 months before women were diagnosed with breast cancer.

Out of the 400 women tested, those with the highest levels of epidermal growth factor receptor were nearly three times more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer later down the line.

The results could mark a breakthrough in the hunt for what medics refer to as a ‘biomarker’ that highlights the presence of cancer before either a patient or doctor is aware anything is wrong.

Dr Christopher Li, who led the research, said it was too early for the biomarker test to be used on its own as a cancer diagnosis, but it could form part of the screening process if further trials confirm their findings.

‘No prior study has validated a single breast cancer early detection biomarker to the degree that we have here,’ he says.

Needless to say, it is an encouraging step in a very important direction.

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