Breast Health

Moving Toward a Blood Test for Breast Cancer

Researchers are looking closer at a blood test that assesses changes in a certain gene's DNA. The test may one day be able to predict who's at risk for breast cancer years before it develops.

Photo of vials of blood

The test looks for changes in a specific gene called ATM. Women with the greatest amount of genetic change - a DNA process called methylation - were more likely in a recent study to develop breast cancer.

To evaluate the test, researchers in Britain analyzed blood samples from nearly 1,400 women. The samples were taken about three years before any of the women was diagnosed with cancer. Of the group, 640 of the women developed cancer, and 741 did not.

DNA changes

The researchers found that high levels of methylation meant problems with the ATM gene's DNA. The result was especially pronounced in women younger than 60.

Earlier studies have found that women already diagnosed with breast cancer have DNA changes on the ATM gene. The current study is the first to look at the ATM gene before a woman develops cancer.

Used in combination with other breast cancer risk assessment tools such as genetic testing and risk factor profiling, this blood test could help identify women at higher risk. This early warning could be used to monitor these patients and one day perhaps even prevent breast cancer from developing.

"So far, we have found alterations in one small region of a gene that appear to associate with risk of disease," says James Flanagan, Ph.D., at the Imperial College London. "So the next step with this epigenetic research is a genome-wide approach to try and find all the associated genes."

The study was published in the journal Cancer Research.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

Online Resources

(Our Organization is not responsible for the content of Internet sites.)

American Cancer Society - Breast Cancer: Early Detection

CDC - Breast Cancer: Screening

National Cancer Institute - Detection and Diagnosis

July 2012

Catching Breast Cancer Early

Breast cancer takes many different forms, and some are more aggressive than others. The key is finding it early so you have the greatest range of treatment options.

Mammograms are still the gold standard of early detection, and the good news is that more women are getting them regularly.

Doctors can also use other kinds of imaging equipment to look at possible areas of concern. For example:

  • Ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to help find out whether a mass is a solid tumor or a cyst.

  • MRIs are sometimes used to detect small tumors after surgery and to watch breast implants for leakage.

When a mammogram shows an abnormality, doctors can now do minimally invasive core biopsies using a slender, hollow needle to gather several samples from different areas of the tissue.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

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