We share some of the innovative research that could change the way we detect breast cancer in the future.

Wednesday 23 November 2016      Research blog
7 ways breast cancer could be detected in the future

Detecting breast cancer early can give women and men the best chance of survival. This is why Breast Cancer Now is committed to funding research that will help make sure breast cancer is detected at an early stage and with greater accuracy – meaning that treatment can begin sooner. Here are some of the ways breast cancer may be detected in the future...

1) Sorting women according to their risk of breast cancer

Projects like the Breast Cancer Now Generations Study are looking for the causes of breast cancer, which will help us to identify women at a higher – and lower - risk of developing the disease. At the moment, women nearing 50 and over are invited to a breast screening appointment every three years; but if we can sort or ‘stratify’ women into different groups according to their risk of breast cancer, we could ensure that those at higher risk are monitored more closely.

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2) High hopes for high risk women with new X-ray technique

Women with dense breasts have a higher risk of developing breast cancer, but it’s harder to spot the early signs of cancer in these women on a standard mammogram. Researchers at the University of Dundee are studying a new imaging technique called x-ray diffraction, which may be able to identify breast cancer in these high risk women by revealing abnormal areas of collagen within the breast.

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3) Not just for the cinema – detecting breast cancer with 3D imaging

Researchers at the University of Manchester are investigating whether an imaging technique called Digital Breast Tomosynthesis (DBT) can help detect cancer earlier by generating a 3D mammogram that shows regions of high breast density, which can indicate a woman has a greater risk of developing breast cancer. This technique may help identify these high-risk women and may even be able to spot the early signs of breast cancer.

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4) Can new blood tests improve accuracy of diagnosis?

Mammograms can’t tell the difference between breast cancer and benign breast conditions meaning that many women are called back for further testing, which can, understandably, lead to anxiety. Researchers at the University of Southampton are developing a blood test to distinguish between breast cancer and benign conditions, meaning that some women won’t need to be recalled for further, more invasive testing such as biopsies. It will be some time before we know if tests like these are accurate enough to be used routinely, but if successful they have the potential to speed up diagnosis and reduce the stress that thousands of women experience every year.

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5) Making breast cancer detection easy pee-sy

Scientists are investigating whether breast cancer can be detected in urine samples, potentially leading to a rapid and non-invasive way to diagnose the disease. Researchers based at the University of Freiberg are investigating whether measuring the level of molecules called microRNAs, which are found in the urine, can show whether a patient has breast cancer or not. They also believe it may be possible to monitor how patients are responding to treatment through this method.

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6) Lighting the way for cancer detection

A new technique, known as molecular breast imaging, uses an injectable radioactive tracer to ‘light up’ cancer cells. Although the dose of radioactivity used is higher than that of a mammogram, this technique is showing promise in detecting breast cancer in high risk women with dense breasts, where cancer is harder to spot using a mammogram.

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7) Paws for thought - can dogs sniff out breast cancer?

It may sound like we’re barking up the wrong tree but dogs and their powerful sense of smell are being trained to detect breast cancer. A study is investigating whether specially trained dogs can detect breast cancer from breath samples. Previous tests have reported that dogs are capable of detecting prostate cancer in urine samples, with a success rate of 93%.

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As you can see, there are many different ways that scientists are working to make sure that breast cancer is detected as early and as accurately as possible, giving those affected the best chance of successful treatment.

Another important way to make sure breast cancer is detected early is by being breast aware - we want all women to know the signs and symptoms of breast cancer and regularly check their breasts for any unusual changes. If all women were in the habit of checking their breasts, we estimate around 1,500 lives could be saved each year in the UK alone.

We have just the tool to help you make the habit of a lifetime – download the free Breast Check Now app today.


 

About the author

Rachel Leahy is a Research Communications Officer at Breast Cancer Now.

She has a Masters in Regenerative Medicine and gets excited talking about tissue engineering.

The Research Communications team keeps our supporters and the public up to date with the exciting progress our scientists are making against breast cancer, as well as research news from around the world.