Blood test 'detects breast cancer relapse early'

But charities warn there is a long way to go before the life-saving tests could be made available in hospitals

(Image credit: Getty)

A simple blood test can accurately detect breast cancer relapses several months before hospital scans, researchers have discovered.

Scientists at London's Institute of Cancer Research have developed a test that can detect small amounts of residual cancer cells that have resisted therapy by looking for tumour DNA in the blood.

The study involved 55 early-stage breast cancer patients who had successfully undergone chemotherapy and surgery.

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Their blood was tested at six-month intervals, and doctors were able to "very accurately" predict which patients were likely to suffer a relapse, The Guardian reports.

Patients who tested positive for circulating tumour DNA were 12 times more likely to relapse than those who tested negative and doctors were able to predict the return of the disease nearly eight months before it could be detected by scans.

“Ours is the first study to show that these blood tests could be used to predict relapse," said lead Dr Nicholas Turner, consultant medical oncologist at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust.

"We also used blood tests to build a picture of how the cancer was evolving over time, and this information could be invaluable to help doctors select the correct drugs to treat the cancer."

Breast cancer is the most prevalent form of the disease among women in Britain, with around 50,000 cases a year. By detecting the cancer earlier, doctors are able to begin treatment sooner and improve a patient's chances of survival.

Scientists say the testing could also potentially be applied to any cancer that has gone through initial treatment and for which there is a risk of relapse in the future.

Turner predicts it will be "some years yet" before the tests could be made available in hospitals, but his team hopes to bring the date closer by carrying out larger clinical trials next year.

However, Nick Peel, from Cancer Research UK, told the BBC that "there is some way to go before this could be developed into a test that doctors could use routinely, and doing so is never simple".

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