Blood test for breast cancer exaggerated - Breast Cancer Foundation

Experts believe more work is needed on blood tests to detect breast cancer.
Experts believe more work is needed on blood tests to detect breast cancer. Photo credit: Photo Credit: Getty Images

The Breast Cancer Foundation says claims a blood test could detect breast cancer up to five years before there are any signs of it are greatly exaggerated.

A study presented at the 2019 NCRI Cancer Conference in London tested the blood of 90 people known to have breast cancer, and 90 people who didn’t have it, looking for tumour-associated antigens (TAAs) that are known to be associated with breast cancer.

Researchers at Nottingham University’s School of Medicine undertook the study, which focused on chemical antigens and are the bodily toxins produced by cancerous cells. 

The chemical prompts our body to create an immune response against antigens in our system.   

After reviewing the samples, researchers were able to correctly identify the presence of breast cancer in 37 per cent of blood samples taken from the group with breast cancer. They also detected no cancer in 79 per cent of the samples taken from people without breast cancer. 

Researcher, Daniyah Alfattani from the Nottingham team, told The Guardian  "The results of our study show that breast cancer does induce auto-antibodies against specific tumour-associated antigens."

He said the team were able to detect cancer reasonably well by identifying auto-antibodies in the blood.

The Nottingham team focused on the toxin and whether the presence of antibodies has been triggered by antigens in tumour cells.

Alfattani told The Guardian. "We have found that these tumour-associated antigens are good indicators of cancer. However, we need to develop and further validate this test."

Chief executive at Breast Cancer Foundation NZ, Evangelia Henderson said: "It’s a great idea, and we strongly believe that there will one day be a blood test for breast cancer – but not today."

The researchers in this study may well have identified some interesting antigens, but there’s a long way to go. We’ll keep an eye on this and the other blood test projects going on around the world, and when the time comes, we’d love to see a blood test piloted in New Zealand," Henderson said.

Other experts agreed, telling The Guardian more work is needed.  

"While this is encouraging research, it is too soon to claim this test could be used to screen for early breast cancer," said Warwick University molecular oncologist Prof Lawrence Young.