A new breast cancer blood test could be more accurate than a mammogram according to a new study.
Scientists from the University of Copenhagen say a simple blood test could predict breast cancer up to five years before the disease develops with accuracy levels of around 80%.
This compares with a traditional mammogram which is around 75% sensitive and only as long as cancer is present.
Under the NHS programme of breast cancer screening women in the UK are offered mammograms every three years from the age of 47 until 73, with up to two million women undergoing the X-rays every year.
Although around 50,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer as a result, more than 2,000 cases are missed each year.
The system is also controversial as for every death prevented, thousands of women are “overdiagnosed” and thereafter given treatment that is completely unnecessary.
The new technique involves building a “metabolic profile” of the patient by measuring the compounds in their blood to detect any changes in the way chemicals are processed, during a pre-cancerous stage.
Scientists hope it will lead to better prevention and earlier treatment of a disease which accounts for more than 11,000 deaths every year in the UK.
Danish researchers tracked and took blood samples from 57,000 patients over 20 years. They then identified patterns in the compounds which were common in those who went on to develop breast cancer within seven years of providing their first blood sample.
At present, mammography can only detect breast cancer that has already occurred. Although this new technique is still a long way off becoming clinical practice, the potential for detecting a disease such as breast cancer up to five years before it actually develops is tremendously exciting.
This is crucial as with so many cancers, breast cancer is much simpler to treat when discovered early on. The earlier the diagnosis, the more effective treatment can be.
In the long term, this technique of analysing someone’s “metabolic profile” could well be used to identify people at risk of a whole range of diseases. The more accurate these predictions are the more targeted preventative or risk-reducing methods and interventions can be.
For the time being however, women who are worried about their breast cancer risk should continue to discuss their concerns with their doctor as currently, mammography still remains the most effective tool we have to detect breast cancer at an early stage.
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