Blood test could detect breast cancer years before

Researchers from the University of Copehagen compared blood samples taken 20 years before. Picture: Getty
Researchers from the University of Copehagen compared blood samples taken 20 years before. Picture: Getty
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A SIMPLE blood test has been developed which could be more accurate than a mammogram at predicting breast cancer up to five years before it develops, a major study has found.

Danish scientists hope the breakthrough could lead to better prevention and earlier treatment of the disease which kills more than 1,000 women a year in Scotland.

Researchers hailed the discovery as “truly amazing” since it could predict the likelihood of a woman developing breast cancer within two to five years with an accuracy of 80 per cent. Mammography measures newly developed cancers with a sensitivity of 75 per cent.

The new technique involves measuring compounds in the blood to build a “metabolic profile” of an individual, since the pattern for how certain chemicals are processed changes before tumours appear.

Professor Rasmus Bro, from Copehagen University and lead researcher on the study published in the journal Metabolomics, said: “The method is better than mammography, which can only be used when the disease has already occurred. It is not perfect, but it is truly amazing that we can predict breast cancer years into the future.”

The research is based on a study of 57,000 people tracked by the Danish Cancer Society over 20 years.

The scientists used the 20-year-old blood samples and other data from 400 women who were healthy when first examined but who were diagnosed with breast cancer two to seven years after providing the first sample, and compared that with 400 women who did not develop breast cancer.

Prof Bro said the method needed to be validated before it could be rolled out.

Prof Lars Ove Dragsted, a professor of biomedicine at Copenhagen, said: “The potential is we can detect a disease like breast cancer much earlier than today. This is important as it is easier to treat if you discover it early. In the long term, it will probably also be possible to use similar models to predict other diseases.”

More than 4,500 women are diagnosed with breast cancer in Scotland each year, making it the most commonly diagnosed cancer among women in the country, according to Breakthrough Breast Cancer Scotland.

Senior research officer Dr Matthew Lam said: “These results are interesting and we’re eager to learn more about new methods to improve predictions of an individual’s risk of developing breast cancer. The more accurate these predictions are, the more targeted we can be with preventative or risk-reducing interventions.”

However, he warned not all women who were at increased risk would develop breast cancer. He added: “Women who are worried about their breast ­cancer risk should discuss this with their doctor.

“For some women, extra screening may be an option as mammography remains the best tool we have to detect breast cancer at an early stage.”

Scientists from Cambridge University revealed last week they had created “risk scores” to predict breast cancer, by analysing women’s DNA.

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