Blood test shows promise to predict breast cancer

Posted Apr 21, 2015 by Ashleigh Bones
Can scientists discover cancer before it appears in the body? According to researchers at the University of Copenhagen, a simple sample of blood is all it takes to determine if a woman will get breast cancer within two to five years.
Researchers at the University of Copenhagen have developed a new blood test that can accurately predict the likelihood of a woman getting breast cancer up to five years before it develops.
The newly presented technique proved to be 80 percent accurate at predicting the disease before the person is actually affected, and only involves a simple blood draw. Mammography, in comparison, is about 75 percent accurate and is useful in detecting cancer only after the onset of the disease.
“It is not perfect, but it is truly amazing that we can predict breast cancer years into the future,” said Rasmus Bro, a professor of chemometrics in the Department of Food Science at University of Copenhagen, in a news release.
The test involves measuring all the compounds (metabolites) in the blood to build a “metabolic profile” of an individual. Along with their blood sample, the participant’s weight and other measurements about their health were recorded.
Instead of examining what a single biomarker means in relation to a specific disease, as in modern science, the researchers analyzed the blood sample by observing the several thousand compounds that it contains.
Apparently, the way metabolites are processed changes when the body is in a pre-cancerous state. While observing the patterns, the research revealed the importance of a set of biomarkers and how they interact, instead of identifying a single biomarker in relation to breast cancer.
”No single part of the pattern is actually necessary nor sufficient,” said Lars Ove Dragsted, a professor of biomedicine in the Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports. “It is the whole pattern that predicts the cancer.”
The research is based on a population study of 57,000 people over the course of 20 years, collected in partnership with the Danish Cancer Society. The scientists analyzed blood profiles from 400 women who were healthy when they were first examined, but were diagnosed with breast cancer two to seven years after providing the sample, and from 400 women who did not develop breast cancer, to come up with an original algorithm that was tested on a second group of women.
The method has only been validated for a single population, so it needs a lot more testing before being widely used.
“The potential is that we can detect a disease like breast cancer much earlier than today," said Dragsted. "This is important as it is easier to treat if you discover it early. In the long term, it will probably also be possible to use similar models to predict other diseases."
The research has been published in the journal Metabolomics ("Forecasting individual breast cancer risk using plasma metabolomics and biocontours.")