There is no woman who does not dread mammogram. On one hand, there is a possibility that the test will come positive for breast cancer. On other hand, the procedure is unbearably painful, unpleasant and degrading. Women could bare it, and many do it every year, in the belief that the test could reliably detect breast cancer and give them a chance of surviving it. Unfortunately, too many tests come with a false positive or false negative, resulting in unnecessary death or at least months of agony until the test can be repeated and results confirmed. Hopefully, things might be changing. A group of UK scientists lead by Dr Jacqui Shaw, principal investigator from the University of Leicester started a large clinical trial in order to find a blood test which will replace mammogram and detect breast cancer early and reliably.
Mammogram is the most popular and widely used method of regular screening for breast cancer. It is an x-ray of a breast squeezed between two metal plates. Its reliability is found to be between 70 and 85 percents, depending on the density of a particular breast tissue. Double screening and computer analysis of the x-rays improved the accuracy of mammography lately, but the test itself ends up with too many false positives and false negatives, particularly for younger women. Some scientists also believe that cancer cells exist in a breast eight years before they become a lump detectable with an x-ray.
Breast cancer markers and a blood test diagnostics
The UK scientists believe that their study will establish a simple blood test which will screen women yearly for breast cancer with much more reliability than mammogram. The blood test will look for DNA markers in the blood that not only show the presence of cancer cells, but the type of breast cancer, medication it will respond to best and even if the patient is likely to relapse after the treatment.
The study will be conducted in Charing Cross Hospital in London, the UK’s largest breast screening clinic. Researchers will screen both women with and without breast cancer, and will look for the DNA markers that are already known to signify presence of breast cancer.
Scientists are also trying to find out how early are the markers for the breast cancer present and show in the blood test.
The same study is also looking for markers for other types of cancer such as lung and bowel, hoping to be able to detect them as well with a blood test.
In 2008, 210,203 American women were diagnosed with breast cancer and 40,589 died from it. If the UK study proves successful, a simple annual blood test will replace mammograms as a way of screening for breast cancer. The new blood test would be able to detect cancer much earlier than mammogram and give many women a fighting chance to combat the disease.