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New Blood Test Can Predict Future Breast Cancer

Method is ‘better than mammography,’ researcher says

According to the World Health Organization, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide. Researchers in Denmark have developed a way to predict future breast cancer by analyzing all metabolites in the blood rather than a single biomarker.

“The method is better than mammography, which can be used only when the disease has already occurred. It is not perfect, but it is amazing that we can predict breast cancer years into the future,” said Dr. Rasmus Bro, a professor of chemometrics at the University of Copenhagen. He stressed that the method has been tested and validated only for a single population and needs to be validated more widely before it can be used in clinical practice.

Nevertheless, the technique could create a paradigm shift in the early diagnosis of breast cancer as well as other diseases, Bro said.

“The potential is that we can detect a disease like breast cancer much earlier than today,” commented Dr. Lars Ove Dragsted, a professor of biomedicine at the university. “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 new findings were published in Metabolomics.

The researchers’ approach was adopted from food science, where the analytical method is used to control complex industrial processes. Basically, it involves handling and analyzing large amounts of biological data. The researchers analyzed all of the metabolites in a blood sample instead of –– as is often done in health and medical sciences –– examining what a single biomarker means in relation to a specific disease.

“When a huge amount of relevant measurements from many individuals is used to assess health risks –– here, breast cancer –– it creates very high-quality information. The more measurements our analyses contain, the better the model handles complex problems,” Bro said.

The model does not provide information about the importance of a single biomarker in relation to breast cancer, but it does reveal the importance of a set of biomarkers and their interactions.

“No single part of the pattern is necessary or sufficient. It is the whole pattern that predicts the cancer,” Dragsted explained.

The scientists measured metabolic blood profiles for their project. When a person is in a precancerous state, the pattern of how certain metabolites are processed apparently changes, they say.

While a mammography can detect newly developed breast cancer with a sensitivity of 75%, the new metabolic blood profile can predict the likelihood of a woman developing breast cancer within the next 2 to 5 years with a sensitivity of 80%.

The research was based on a population study of 57,000 people followed for more than 20 years by the Danish Cancer Society. The participants were first examined in 1994–1996, during which time their weight and other measurements were recorded and they answered a questionnaire. They also provided a blood sample, which was stored in liquid nitrogen.

The scientists used the 20-year-old blood samples and other data from 400 women who were healthy when they were first examined but who were diagnosed with breast cancer 2 to 7 years after providing the first sample, and from 400 women who did not develop breast cancer.

The method was also used to test a different dataset of women examined in 1997. Predictions based on the new set of data matched the first dataset, thereby supporting the validity of the model.

Source: Medical Xpress; April 15, 2015.

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