A metal-detecting blood test that can give early, life-saving warning signs of breast cancer is being developed by Oxford University scientists. Their hopes is the inexpensive and simple test will detect the disease long before a woman develops a lump – and say it could be used in a national screening program.
Detecting cancer at an early stage when it is easiest to treat could potentially save thousands of lives, as well as spare patients and their families the pain and distress of prolonged illness.
Researcher Fiona Larner said: “Prevention is better than cure. There is a survival rate of about 80 per cent for breast cancer but the earlier you can detect it, the more chance you have of treating it. There are drugs out there that can cure breast cancer or give patients a better timeline. If you can detect it earlier, you can give more women a better chance of survival.”
The hope centers around the metal zinc and “heavy” and “light” forms of it which exist in the human body. Breast tissue is known to take up zinc, and release it back into the bloodstream.
Dr. Larner has shown that cancerous cells absorb more zinc, they also hold onto more of the “light” form of the metal.
If breast tumors have more of the “light” metal in their tissue, this means unwanted “heavy” version may be floating around in their blood. In other words, women who have higher than average levels of the “heavy” form of zinc in their blood may have breast cancer.
Dr. Larner is developing a blood test that will help scan for this and hopes it will be available in five years.
Women who have inherited genes that put them at high risk for breast cancer are encouraged to take the blood test once it becomes available.
Ten years from now, the blood test could be used to screen all women for early stages of breast cancer, as opposed to using mammograms or x-rays instead, reports the Royal Society of Chemistry journal Metallomics.