Coming This Summer: A Blood Test That Predicts Breast Cancer


A new blood test will be able to accurately predict whether a woman will develop breast cancer within two to five years. Tests like this are in development for Alzheimer’s and heart disease, too. But would you want to know? (Photo: Getty Images)

Between Angelina Jolie and Rita Wilson, breast cancer has repeatedly been in the news recently — and both celebrities have stressed that early detection is key.

However, early detection methods for many forms of breast cancer have been lacking (and prohibitively expensive) … until now. Researchers from the University of Copenhagen have created a blood test that fairly accurately predicts whether a woman will develop breast cancer within two to five years.


Both Rita Wilson and Angelina Jolie have been instrumental in spreading the word that early breast cancer detection is key to survival; Jolie on genetic testing for the BRCA genes, and Wilson about getting a second opinion on breast cancer tests. (Photos: Getty Images)

According to the Susan G. Komen foundation, there will be 231,840 new cases of invasive breast cancer this year and an estimated 40,290 women will die from the disease in 2015. Doctors have repeatedly stressed that early detection is key to giving patients the proper treatment and increasing their survival rate.

Scientists in this particular study based their research on a population study of 57,000 people followed by the Danish Cancer Society over 20 years. Study participants were first examined from 1994 through 1996 and provided blood samples that were stored in liquid nitrogen.

Scientists used the blood samples from 400 women who were healthy when they were first examined but were later diagnosed with breast cancer two to seven years after providing the first blood sample. They also tested their method against a different group of study participants from 1997 and found their results were the same.

“We are right in 80 percent of the cases,” researcher Rasmus Bro, PhD, tells Yahoo Health. “The 80 percent is on par with mammography, which is a much ‘simpler’ problem in that we are looking at whether persons are currently sick.”

Related: What It Means To Have ‘Dense Breasts’ — And Why It Matters

The new test is different from others in that it measures multiple biomarkers in a healthy person to determine whether someone will develop breast cancer. Other tests look for single biomarkers, such as a mutation in the BRCA gene.

Findings such as Bro’s study are noteworthy because it increases the odds breast cancer will be detected early in a patient and effectively treated. “Since 1990, breast cancer mortality has declined by 34 percent due to early detection and effective treatment,” Susan Brown, RN, managing director of health and science education for Susan G. Komen tells Yahoo Health. “However, we know that mammography is not perfect. Promising research into emerging methods of early detection, including blood tests, may someday give women better screening options.”

While the findings are exciting, Bro says the method needs more testing before it can be released for public use.

In the meantime, German health diagnostic company Sphingotec is planning to release two new blood tests to better predict a woman’s odds of developing breast cancer. The tests will help determine a woman’s risk of breast cancer, regardless of her genetic predisposition or possession of the BRCA gene mutation, by identifying the concentration of the peptides neurotensin (NT) and enkaphalin (ENK) in the blood, which are linked to breast cancer. These tests will be available for clinical use in the U.S. in a few months.

Studies on early diagnostic blood tests are happening for other diseases as well. Research is ongoing on a blood test to predict Alzheimer’s disease, and a study published last year in The American Journal of Cardiology found a test that may determine whether a patient will develop heart disease in the next 15 years.

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But will people actually want to take these tests, knowing that the results may indicate they’ll have a serious health battle in the near future? According to licensed clinical psychologist Alicia Clark, PsyD, the tests may actually help a person’s anxiety about their health by giving them a sense of control.

“Knowledge of a coming disease — or its absence — can deliver awareness and control over precious time and decisions preceding the onset of a major health battle,” she tells Yahoo Health. “In determining how testing information can work for a patient, it is paramount that a patient feel a sense of control and autonomy me over the information.”

Unfortunately, Clark says there is no way for people to avoid the anxiety that may come with the choice to take a test or not, but therapy may be able to help someone cope with unfavorable results.

While Rasmus says he still doesn’t know what his findings will lead to, he’s hopeful that the future of early diagnostics will change, “not tomorrow, but in years to come.”

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