Breast cancer spread may be detected by blood tests say researchers

In collaboration with the Press Association

Cancer Research UK has cautiously welcomed the preliminary results of research suggesting that blood tests could be used to detect the spread of breast cancer.

A specific method of detecting spreading, or metastatic, tumours earlier than is now possible would be significant as secondary tumours are the main cause of death from breast cancer.

Once detected, cancer treatment can be altered so that it targets secondary tumours at their earliest and most vulnerable stage, said researchers.

Using blood samples to detect metastatic tumours has proved challenging as tumours can develop from a single cancer cell among the 2,525 cells in the average blood sample.

The method being developed by US company Adnagen uses microscopic magnetised beads designed to detect and attach themselves to cancer cells in blood samples.

A magnetic accumulator is then used to gather the beads and the cancer cells analysed to help tailor a treatment programme designed to kill them.

In early testing, researchers claim to have achieved a 97 per cent detection rate.

"This technique is still being tested in clinical trials so we will have to wait for the results to see whether this method works well enough to be used routinely," said Dr Julie Sharp of Cancer Research UK.

"But anything that helps detect promptly whether breast cancer has spread is to be welcomed."

The technique is currently undergoing testing at the MD Anderson Cancer Centre in the US, and was presented at an international meeting on Molecular Diagnostics in Cancer Therapeutic Development.

Find out about breast cancer screening