You've heard it before: the best ways to prevent cancer are to avoid tobacco, eat a healthy diet, maintain a healthy weight, avoid excess alcohol and sun exposure, and exercise regularly. Those are duties that we all, in fact, must execute if we want to maintain our health, but did you know that there is a study that says that breast cancer could be detected 5 years before it appears?
Beyond these basic lifestyle habits, in fact, doctors also recommend testing for common cancers on a regular basis in order to detect changes in your body that could turn into cancer if left untreated.
While there are some well-established screening tests, such as colonoscopies, mammograms and Pap tests, researchers at the University of Nottingham School of Medicine may have developed a new blood test capable of detecting breast cancer for up to 5 years before symptoms are present.
Before continuing, it is important to understand how your body detects cancer cells on its own. Normally, a healthy cell will grow and divide over a period of time until it dies. A cancer cell continues to grow and divide until it finally forms a tumor.
Tumors produce proteins on their surface called antigens. These tumor associated antigens (AAT) are recognized by your body as "not its own" or foreign, and your immune system will be constantly monitoring to detect and destroy them.
How does your body destroy these external invaders? AATs cause your body to make antibodies against the cancer cell, known as autoantibodies. This process is known as immune surveillance and indicates that your body is capable of preparing a protective response against cancer cells.
Detect breast cancer through blood
Researchers at the University of Nottingham are harnessing this body's natural immune response to detect breast cancer.
The team took blood samples from 90 newly diagnosed breast cancer patients and compared them with samples from a control group of 90 patients who did not have cancer. The goal was to find out if they could detect the presence of specific autoantibodies and find out whether they had been activated by tumor antigens.
The results were positive.
"We were able to detect cancer with reasonable precision by identifying these autoantibodies in the blood," said Daniyah Alfattani, a member of the Nottingham team of researchers.
This means that through a simple blood test, the researchers were able to identify the body's immune response to TAAs and this may allow them to detect cancer significantly earlier than conventional tests.
While these initial results look very promising, other researchers caution that there is nothing to get too excited about just yet. Cancer epidemiologist and Cambridge University professor Paul Pharoah reminds us that this is very preliminary data.
"Much more research would be needed before making any claims that this is likely to represent a significant advance in early cancer detection."
After the success of these initial tests, the researchers are now testing a sample of 800 patients against nine TAAs, and they expect the results to be even more accurate with this increased participant size.
If these tests go well, the team hopes that a cancer screening blood test will be available in the next four to five years.
Other types of cancer
When cancer is found earlier, it is easier to treat and the survival rate is significantly higher, and the results of this study are not only promising for breast cancer detection.
Similar tests are currently being done for lung cancer, pancreatic cancer, colorectal cancer, and liver cancer. This list accounts for 70 percent of all cancers worldwide and could be a breakthrough in cancer research.
So while this research is still new, we could be one step closer to a cancer-free world.
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