Early breast cancer detection remains one of the most vital parts in our fight against breast cancer. An earlier breast cancer diagnosis offers a better chance for improved outcomes and survival. Advancements in breast cancer detection methods like improved mammograms, MRI screening, and PET screening have been tremendous over the last several years. Additionally, new multi-gene breast cancer detection tests that measure one's risk for breast cancer recurrence or metastasis have been developed and successfully used. However, a simple blood test for the diagnosis of breast cancer has remained elusive.
A new breast cancer research study reports that a blood test for the early diagnosis of breast cancer might become reality in the not-to-distant future. Because breast cancer tumors produce a large number of proteins to which our bodies produce antibodies against, breast cancer researchers screened these proteins to determine if they could be used to detect breast cancer. Using a 3-phase screening approach and a new protein screening technology called Nucleic Acid Protein Programmable Array, these breast cancer researchers screened nearly 5,000 breast cancer tumor proteins in the blood of women with invasive breast cancer and in normal, healthy women without breast cancer. During the first screening phase, only 761 proteins met the initial screening criteria. These 761 proteins were further screened using blood from women with invasive breast cancer and women with benign (non-cancerous) breast disease. Of these 761 proteins, 119 met the screening criteria as possible markers of breast cancer. To narrow the list of proteins down even further, the breast cancer researchers tested these 119 proteins in a new set of blood samples from breast cancer patients and controls. This third screening resulted in final panel of 28 proteins that could be used for breast cancer detection. In a test of performance, this 28-protein screening tool correctly identified 81% of of breast cancer patients and correctly identified 62% of healthy individuals.
While still preliminary, these are very exciting results. Overall, this study reports that the presence of these 28 proteins appears to indicate the possible presence of breast cancer, making this panel of 28 proteins a potential tool for breast cancer detection. Additional work will need to be done to improve the efficiency of this procedure. While the ability to correctly identify 81% of breast cancer patients is a positive, a much higher number will likely be needed for this test to become widely accepted by the medical community. Larger studies will likely be needed to confirm and improve upon the results reported in this study. Nonetheless, this is an excellent step in the right direction for the development of a blood test for breast cancer detection. A test like this will most likely make a good complementary diagnostic tool in combination with other screening tools like mammograms or MRI.