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Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Potential blood test for screening breast cancer

Posted Oct 27 2011 4:29am

Breast screeningA way to identify people who may have a certain condition, among a group of people who may or may not seem to has consistently been criticised for resulting in false positives leading to undue stressRelating to injury or concern. and upset, as well as the costs of follow-up mammograms and biopsies. A recent study has found that by testing the bloodA fluid that transports oxygen and other substances through the body, made up of blood cells suspended in a liquid. of patients physicians are able to detect breast cancer.

Breast cancer sheds proteins which are known as biomarkersA substance that can be measured to help healthcare professionals to assess normal processes, disease processes or a person's response to treatment.. These biomarkers when detected in a blood test can distinguish between positive breast cancer and benignNot dangerous, usually applied to a tumour that is not malignant. lumps. Biomarkers have previously had little success in determining breast cancer but a this new approach compares the different proteins in blood found in the different subtypes of breast cancer allowing for a greater efficiency at distinguishing malignantDescribes a tumour resulting from uncontrolled cell division that can invade other tissues and may spread to distant parts of the body. breast lumps.

The authors write that “…researchers haven’t found good biomarkers because they’ve been treating the different subtypes as a single disease…” The team from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Duke University are hoping to repeat the study in larger groups of women over a longer time period.

This news has come at a good time. A national review of breast screening is currently underway following controversial reports of 600,000 women that breast screening causes more harm than good. Breast screening in the UK started in 1988 and currently offers three yearly mammographies for women aged between 50 and 70 with women over the age of 70 having the option to request a mammographyA diagnostic and screening test using low-dose X-rays to detect breast tumours every three years. Many women are unaware, however, of the ability to request a breast screen despite being at the highest risk of contracting breast cancer as age increases. The review is welcome news for critics of the NHS Breast Screening Programme. 

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