Researchers Find Changes in Blood Proteins up to 2 Years Before Breast Cancer Diagnosis

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Researchers have found changes in the levels of particular proteins in patients’ blood up to 2 years before they were diagnosed with breast cancer, according to a novel study published by Hagenaars et al in the European Journal of Cancer. The study, also presented at the 13th European Breast Cancer Conference (Abstract 1), could form the basis of blood testing for individuals with a genetic predisposition to or a family history of breast cancer to ensure that the disease is diagnosed early, when the chances of survival are greatest.

Study Details

The research—conducted through the still-active Early Serum Test Breast (TESTBREAST) cancer trial—included 1,174 female patients who were at a high risk of developing breast cancer because of their family history or because they carried genetic variants known to raise their risk. The study, which has been running for 10 years, involved yearly blood samples during screenings for the trial participants as well at the time of diagnosis for those who developed breast cancer.

Researchers used mass spectrometry to analyze the levels of different proteins in the patients’ blood. They looked both for variation between different patients and changes that emerged in the individuals over time.

So far, the researchers have made detailed analyses of 30 blood samples taken from three patients who have been diagnosed with breast cancer and three patients who have not developed breast cancer and found distinct differences between the patients over time. This has revealed a set of six proteins that were at higher or lower levels 1 to 2 years prior to diagnosis.

“These proteins could form the basis for a blood test for early detection of breast cancer in [patients] at a higher risk. It’s important to note that we found more variation in the protein levels in the blood samples between [patients], compared to over time within the same [patients] who developed breast cancer. This shows that testing should probably be based both on proteins that differ between [patients] with and without breast cancer and on proteins that alter in an individual person over time,” said Sophie Hagenaars, a PhD student in the Department of Surgery at the Leiden University Medical Center.

Looking Ahead

The researchers are currently looking to validate their findings in a larger group of patients with and without breast cancer taking part in the TESTBREAST study and in patients taking part in other high-risk breast cancer research studies.

“If further research validates our findings, this testing could be used as an add-on to existing screening techniques. Blood tests are relatively simple and not particularly painful for most [individuals], so [patients] could be offered screening[s] as often as needed,” Ms. Hagenaars suggested.

“[Patients] at a high risk of developing breast cancer take part in screening programs at fixed time points. If this research ultimately results in a blood test for [individuals] with a high risk of breast cancer, that could guide personalized screening and help to diagnose breast cancer at the earliest possible stage,” concluded Laura Biganzoli, MD, Director of the Breast Center in the Department of Oncology at the Hospital of Prato and Co-Chair of the European Breast Cancer Conference, who was not involved in the study.

Disclosure: For full disclosures of the study authors, visit

The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.