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Blood Test Shows Promise in Detecting Breast Cancer

Update Date: Jun 27, 2014 11:50 AM EDT

The key in improving survival rates is to detect diseases as early as possible. In a new study, researchers reportedly found a way to use blood tests to estimate one's risk of developing breast cancer. The blood test works by identifying any changes in how the patient's DNA functions as opposed to looking for mutations. For breast cancer in particular, the researchers focused on a marker linked to the BRCA1 gene, which has been tied to increasing one's risk of breast cancer significantly.

"Women who carry the signature are at particularly higher risk of developing breast cancer in the future," said study lead investigator, Martin Widschwendter at University College London reported by NBC News.

In this study, the researchers examined blood samples taken from women with and without the BRCA1 mutations. None of the women had breast cancer when their blood was drawn. In the blood, the researchers looked at changes caused by methylation, which is a process that affects how a particular gene functions. The team stated that the marker could also be found in women who did not carry the gene. The test was able to predict people's risk of breast cancer several years ahead of a diagnosis.

"We identified an epigenetic signature in women with a mutated BRCA1 gene that was linked to increased cancer risk and lower survival rates," Widschwendter said according to Yahoo UK. "Surprisingly, we found the same signature in large cohorts of women without the BRCA1 mutation and it was able to predict breast cancer risk several years before diagnosis. The data is encouraging since it shows the potential of a blood-based epigenetic test to identify breast cancer risk in women without known predisposing genetic mutations."

Breast cancer is the most common cancer for women. Every year, more than 200,000 women living in the U.S. get diagnosed with the disease and 40,000 will die from it annually. The researchers stated that this blood test could become another tool that doctors turn to when assessing women's risk.

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