4 November 2019

A new blood test that could detect the early stages of breast cancer is being developed by scientists at the University of Nottingham.

The research, which was presented yesterday at the National Cancer Research Institute Conference, looked at whether measuring specific immune molecules in the blood could detect breast cancer. These immune molecules, called autoantibodies, arise as a response to developing the disease and can be screened for in the blood. This could potentially lead to a new diagnostic test to help detect breast cancer earlier.    

Researchers at the University of Nottingham tested blood samples from 180 participants (90 of who had breast cancer and 90 didn’t) for the presence of nine autoantibodies. They found that the test correctly identified breast cancer in 37% of the participants that had the disease and correctly found no cancer in 79% of healthy individuals.

More research is now needed to further develop the test, understand how much sooner this test could detect breast cancer, and how it could be used in clinics. Researchers are planning a larger follow up study using samples from 800 people to improve the accuracy of the test.

In the future, they hope that this test could be used to diagnose breast cancer at the earliest time possible, allowing treatment to be started sooner and giving everyone the best chance of survival.  

Dr Kotryna Temcinaite, Research Communications Manager at Breast Cancer Now, the research and care charity, said: 

“It’s really promising that a simple blood test could in future help clinicians detect autoantibodies that may arise before breast tumours develop. While these are early findings, it’s exciting that testing for these autoantibodies could potentially help detect breast cancer earlier or identify women who may benefit from being monitored more closely.  

“Finding ways to detect breast cancer earlier will be crucial if we are to stop more women dying from the disease. While these results are encouraging, we now need further research to improve the accuracy and reliability of this test, as well as to understand how much sooner it may be able to detect the early signs of breast cancer.   

“We now look forward to further studies to understand the full potential of this test, how it could be used once developed, and what interventions could accompany it. In the meantime, anyone who is concerned about their breast cancer risk can call our free Helpline on 0808 800 6000.”