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New blood test may detect breast cancer sooner than mammograms

Ally Hirschlag is a producer/actor/writer who lives in Brooklyn, NY and buys way too many toys for her cats. She contributes to several publications, including Bustle, and The Nerve, and enjoys writing about all things woman. In her spar...

Early detection for breast cancer may have just gotten a whole lot better

A new blood test claims to be able to detect this common form of cancer much sooner — and more accurately than mammograms.

However, it's not quite time yet to sign up for the test at your doctor's office. The blood test was used on 400 Danish women, and only one of their results showed that it was successful in detecting cancer cells. But according to the Danish researchers, that's not an indication that the test, once perfected, won't be incredibly accurate.

According to WebMD, researchers at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark are claiming this new blood test will be able to show signs of breast cancer two to five years before it would show up on a mammogram, with 80 percent accuracy. Mammograms are currently only 75 percent accurate, to give you an idea of what an improvement this would be from current detection methods.

More: Mammogram guidelines: Breast cancer detection confusion and controversy

Professor Rasmus Bro, one of the study's researchers, said in the published work on Metabolomics, "The method is better than mammography, which can only be used when the disease has already occurred. It is not perfect, but it is truly amazing that we can predict breast cancer years into the future."

Doctor Bro and his fellow researchers actually turned to a method that's often used in food science to come up with this early detection test. Normally, abnormal cells associated with different diseases are found by looking at a single biomarker in a blood sample. Instead, these researchers looked at all the compounds in the blood to identify patterns.

More: Why rising breast cancer rates aren't as scary as they sound

"The more measurements our analyses contain, the better the model handles complex problems," Doctor Bro said in the study's press release. Simply put, they can create a more accurate test when they pull from more parts of many blood samples. Makes perfect sense to me.

The data used for the research is actually 20 years old and taken from a study that looked at 57,053 men and women over two decades. The researchers looked at blood samples of women from that study who didn't have breast cancer at the time their samples were collected but were diagnosed with the disease within two to seven years after the fact. For each of the 400 samples, they created a comprehensive profile that focused on compound interactions and patterns in the blood rather than specific markers. It's in those patterns that abnormalities indicating cancer can show up.

However, some specialists advise we exercise caution in the light of this discovery. Matthew Lam, Ph.D., senior research officer at Breakthrough Breast Cancer and Breast Cancer Campaign in the U.K., says that while the new method may help spot patients at higher risk for the disease, there is no indication that said patients will ever actually develop cancer.

That said, breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women, according to the World Health Organization, and I think it's safe to say that any improvement science can make on its early detection would be unimaginably helpful.

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