Breast cancer could be detected five years before clinical signs appear in patients thanks to a blood test that can identify the body's immune responses to cancer cells. This is the statement that was made about the research that will be presented at a national cancer conference in Glasgow on Sunday. However, other cancer experts have warned that these statements should be treated with caution.
The study is the work of researchers from the School of Medicine of Nottingham University who focused on chemicals known as antigens. These are produced by cancer cells and trigger an immune response within the man. In particular, they make our bodies produce autoantibodies that strike and try to block those invading antigens.
The researchers wanted to know if they could detect the presence of specific autoantibodies in patients and show if they had been triggered by tumor cell antigens. Then the team took blood samples from 90 patients who were recently diagnosed with breast cancer. They compared them with samples taken from a control group of 90 patients without breast cancer.
Finally, the group examined the blood samples to see if they could detect autoantibodies triggered by tumor antigens. The researchers correctly identified breast cancer in 37% of blood samples taken from affected patients. Basically, they were also able to show that there was no cancer in 79% of the control group samples.
The results are considered very encouraging by the group, which states that they indicate that it will be possible to detect breast cancer in this way.
"The results of our study show that breast cancer induces autoantibodies against specific tumor-associated antigens," said Daniyah Alfattani, a member of the Nottingham team. "We were able to detect the cancer with reasonable accuracy by identifying these autoantibodies in the blood. Once the accuracy of the test has improved, the possibility of using a simple blood test to improve early diagnosis of the disease opens up," Alfattani added. who will present the study at the National Cancer Research Institute on Sunday annual conference.
"We found that these tumor-associated antigens are good indicators of cancer. However, we need to further develop and validate this test."
Other researchers have urged caution in interpreting these results. "These are clearly very preliminary data," said the cancer epidemiologist at the University of Cambridge, prof. Paul Pharoah. "Much more research would be needed before any claim could be made that this could represent significant progress in the early detection of cancer."
The professor. Lawrence Young, a molecular oncologist at Warwick University, agreed: "While this encourages research, it is too early to say that this test could be used for screening early breast cancer. Further work is needed to increase the efficiency and sensitivity of cancer detection. "
The Nottingham team is now testing samples of 800 patients and expects the accuracy of the tests to improve with these larger numbers.
"A blood test for the early diagnosis of breast cancer would be convenient, which would be of particular value in low and middle income countries. It would also be a simpler screening method to implement than current methods, such as mammography," he said. affirmed Alfattani.
The researchers estimate that, with a fully funded development program, the test could become available in the clinic in about four or five years.
The group is working on similar tests for pancreatic, colorectal and liver cancers. Solid tumors like these, as well as lung and breast cancer, account for about 70% of all cancers.
Furthermore, a similar test for lung cancer is being tested in a randomized controlled trial in Scotland, which involved 12,000 people at high risk of developing lung cancer because they smoke. Participants who test positive for autoantibodies undergo a CT scan every two years in order to detect lung cancer in its early stages when it is easier to treat.
"A blood test that can detect one of these cancers at an early stage is the main goal of our work," Alfattani said.