Blood test for breast cancer in the news: What some experts think

Could a simple blood test predict breast cancer before symptoms occur? 

Researchers say they are working on a simple blood test that could catch breast cancer five years before symptoms occur that could be available in 4 to 5 years. It appears the possibility of such a blood test is a ‘wait and see’ according to some experts. 

Imagine what that would mean - not just for fewer deaths and invasive treatment from cancer - but for lowering healthcare spending and anxiety over mammogram screening. 

Findings presented at the 2019 NCRI Cancer Conference, Glasgow, UK, highlighted how a blood test has already been developed that detects cancer cell proteins. The blood test, developed specifically for breast cancer, can detect antigens  (TAAs - tumor associated antigens) that researchers say they have found are a reliable indication of breast cancer. 

For this study a team of researchers from the University of Nottingham School of Medicine matched blood samples taken from 90 women with diagnosed breast cancer. 

"The results of our study showed that breast cancer does induce autoantibodies against panels of specific tumour-associated antigens. We were able to detect cancer with reasonable accuracy by identifying these autoantibodies in the blood."

Ms Daniyah Alfattani, a PhD student; quoted above, also said in  a press release more work needs to be done to ensure accuracy of the testing. Scientists are also continuing to work on blood tests for other types of cancer including lung, colon and other types of cancer that are prominent. 

Some 'experts' are already negating the possibility that a blood test for breast cancer will arrive anytime soon. But Alfattani said the Nottingham team is moving on to test 800 patients and that it's possible such a test will be available in 4 to 5 years. 

Dr Jeremy Carlton, Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellow, School of Cancer and Pharmaceutical Sciences, King's College London & The Francis Crick Institute said in a press release: 

"The claims in the press release that this test could be used to detect cancer 5 years before clinical diagnosis were not supported as the authors did not appear to examine any samples obtained 5-years before clinical diagnosis. In short, this study is too preliminary to support the claims made in the press release and it will be important to ensure that any future diagnostic test is as accurate, sensitive and reliable as possible.”

The current study found breast cancer was detected at a 29 percent accuracy for breast cancer and 84 percent for patients that were cancer free, using a panel that tested for 5 TAAs. 

Testing for 7 TAAs yielded an accuracy of 35 percent for cancer and 79 percent in the control group. When the researchers tested for 9 of the tumor associated antigens the return was 37 percent accuracy for breast cancer and 79 percent for the control group. 

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons