Miami researchers say a new blood test could detect a breast cancer relapse months before tumors would show up on hospital scans, reports Science Alert.
The blood test detects tumor DNA in the patients' blood and correctly identified cancer relapse signs an average of 7.9 months before any visible cancer indications appeared.
Using personalized digital polymerase chain reaction (dPCR) tests to track mutations, the blood test picks up abnormalities and is applicable to all types of breast cancer and can maybe be expanded to work for all cancers, reports CTV News.
The test followed 55 breast cancer patients who had previously undergone surgery and chemotherapy treatments and were now in remission. For two years, they took the blood test every six months or until they had a relapse.
Out of the 15 patients who relapsed, the blood test detected tumor DNA in 12 of them. The other three had cancer that spread to the brain, which would not have shown up in the blood, according to Science Alert. The test wrongly diagnosed one patient who, up until this point, has not relapsed.
“Ours is the first study to show that these blood tests could be used to predict relapse," lead researcher Nicholas Turner from the Institute of Cancer Research in London said. "It will be some years before the test could potentially be available in hospitals, but we hope to bring this date closer by conducting much larger clinical trials starting next year."
Doctors are rarely able to cure recurrent breast cancer, so it is unclear whether or not detecting a relapse early would actually help in most cases, but Turner says that is something they are also looking into.
"We're really talking about a principle that could potentially be applied to any cancer that has gone through initial treatment for which there's a risk of relapse in the future," he added.
Unfortunately, the sample size was relatively small, and the results were inconsistent, but a test as inexpensive and non-invasive as blood work shows huge potential.