(CN) – A new blood test could detect breast cancer up to five years before clinical signs arise by observing how the immune system responds to substances produced by tumor cells, a science research team announced Saturday.
Researchers from the Centre of Excellence for Autoimmunity in Cancer (CEAC) group at the University of Nottingham analyzed blood samples from 90 breast cancer patients and 90 cancer-free patients.
They used a screening technology called protein microarray that allowed them to rapidly screen blood samples. The scientists looked for autoantibodies against 40 TAAs associated with breast cancer, as well as 27 TAAs previously unknown to be linked with the disease.
A protein produced by cancer cells called antigens are excellent indicators of cancer, according to new information presented by scientists at the NCRI Cancer Conference in Glasgow, Scotland.
Antigens alert the body to combat the cancer cells with autoantibodies. By compiling a panel of well known tumor-associated antigens (TAAs) seen in breast cancer, scientists can test whether a patient’s blood sample has the necessary autoantibodies.
“The results of our study showed that breast cancer does induce autoantibodies against panels of specific tumor-associated antigens. We were able to detect cancer with reasonable accuracy by identifying these autoantibodies in the blood,” said Daniyah Alfattani, a member of the research group.
The scientists successfully identified 3 panels of TAAs to test for antibodies, and found that the more types of antibodies, the more accurate the results. In a panel of 5 TAAs, it detected breast cancer in 29% of diagnosed patients and found no cancer in 84% of control samples. In the panel of 7 TAAs, it found cancer in 35% of cancer patients and no cancer in 79% of control samples. And in the panel of 9 TAAs, it found cancer cells in 37% of cancer samples and no cancer in 79% of control samples.
Although it requires further development to validate its accuracy, Alfattani said “these results are encouraging and indicate that it’s possible to detect a signal for early breast cancer.” Moving forward, they will conduct the same test with 800 blood samples and a panel of 9 TAAs, expecting to see increased accuracy. They estimate that with the proper funding, the blood test could be available within the next 4-5 years.
“A blood test for early breast cancer detection would be cost effective, which would be of particular value in low and middle income countries. It would also be an easier screening method to implement compared to current methods, such as mammography,” Alfattani said.
Similar tests are being conducted globally, including a lung cancer test in Scotland involving 12,000 individuals who smoke, and a test by the CEAC for pancreatic, colorectal and liver cancers. These cancers are the main focus at the moment as they make up around 70% of cancer cases, but Alfattani adds “a blood test capable of detecting any of these cancers at an early stage is the over-riding objective of our work.”