A new blood test which identifies a genetic change that doubles the risk of breast cancer could allow doctors to identify women at high risk of the disease years before they develop a tumor.
The research, which is published in Cancer Research, analyzed blood samples from 1,380 women of various ages, 640 of whom went on to develop breast cancer. Through studying those samples, the researchers were able to identify a strong association between molecular changes in a white blood cell gene, called ATM, and breast cancer risk.
Carrying the ATM alteration was found to double lifetime risk of developing breast cancer. The molecular changes were extremely clear in women under the age of 60, and on average the changes were observed three years before diagnosis. Dr James Flanagan, the lead researcher, explained to The Telegraph:
"We are working towards prevention. If we can identify women at high risk of cancer we can work towards preventing it and could reduce the incidence of breast cancer quite dramatically. We have found one marker, we need to work towards finding them all and then we will have a more useful test."
Such major advances will help spot people at risk much earlier. Combined with new research that shows breast cancer is in fact ten different diseases—a finding that promises personal treatment plans—we could be seeing a complete sea change in the way we diagnose and treat the disease. [Cancer Research, The Telegraph]