(Healthline) – There’s a new blood test that aims to detect breast cancer. It’s one of many attempts to create an effective early detection method
The test could pinpoint breast cancer up to 5 years before a person shows clinical signs of the disease, according to researchers from the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom.
The test evaluates the body’s immune response to the substances tumor cells produce.
Cancer cells make antigens that cause the body to make antibodies known as autoantibodies. The test looks for the presence of autoantibodies against tumor-associated antigens (TAAs).
The team was able to make a panel that looked for autoantibodies against 40 antigens that are known to be associated with breast cancer.
Additionally, they looked at 27 antigens or TAAs that weren’t known to be linked with breast cancer.
The research was presented at the 2019 National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) Cancer Conference.
To assess the test, the researchers collected blood samples from 90 people with breast cancer when they received their diagnosis. They then compared those samples with blood samples from 90 people without breast cancer.
“We were able to detect cancer with reasonable accuracy by identifying these autoantibodies in the blood,” Daniyah Alfattani, a PhD student in the group, said, speaking at the conference.
“The results of our study showed that breast cancer does induce autoantibodies against panels of specific tumor-associated antigens,” Alfattani said.
Test accuracy improved in the panels that had more TAAs. A panel of five TAAs correctly detected breast cancer in 29 percent of samples.
Additionally, in the control group, researchers detected 84 percent of people as not having cancer. A panel of seven TAAs found cancer in 35 percent of samples and no cancer in 79 percent. The panel of nine TAAs identified cancer in 37 percent of people with cancer and 79 percent in people without cancer.
The researchers are hoping to improve the accuracy of the test. They hope it can evolve into a test that could offer an easy way to detect the disease in an early stage. Next, they’ll test the panel with nine TAAs on 800 people.
If funded and evaluated completely, the test could be available in about 4 to 5 years, the researchers said.
There’s been a lot of interest in early cancer detection via blood tests, and more research keeps coming in looking at different approaches, says Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, interim chief medical and scientific officer for the American Cancer Society.
People have known about TAAs for many years. The U.K. test needs more data, but it’s an example of taking another approach to try to identify cancer through blood, he told Healthline.
Two interesting aspects of the research are that it looked at the body’s response to early stage cancer compared to cancer proteins or DNA shed by a tumor.
It also used a panel that looked at different markers instead of just one, explains Muhammed Murtaza, MD, PhD, assistant professor at Mayo Clinic and TGen, a nonprofit research organization.
“These are promising results, but it is still too early to tell how the test will perform across breast cancer subtypes and stages,” Murtaza told Healthline.