Study identifies new markers in blood that allow early diagnosis of fatal breast cancer
In a recent study published in the journal Genome Medicine, researchers discovered changes in part of the DNA that could indicate early signs of fatal breast cancer. The abnormal patterns were detectable in the blood serum before the cancer affected the breast. With the help of this detection method, deadly breast cancer can be diagnosed up to a year earlier.
A team of researchers from University College London (UCL) found that in breast cancer, small molecules of carbon and hydrogen are attached to a specific marker (EFC # 93) in one process. This process is called DNA methylation. Abnormal DNA methylation is common in human tumors. Changes in methylation occur very early in breast cancer development. "Our study provides evidence for the first time that DNA methylation markers like EFC # 93 are a highly specific indicator that can diagnose fatal breast cancer up to a year earlier," explains Professor Martin Widschwendter from UCL. This could enable individualized treatment, which could even start without radiological evidence in the breast.
Methylation markers or mammography screening?
The researchers first analyzed the DNA methylation of EFC # 93 in blood serum samples from 419 breast cancer patients. According to Widschwendter, the presence of the EFC # 93 DNA methylation marker in blood serum was able to correctly identify women in 43 percent of those who developed fatal breast cancer within the next three to six months. "It was important that EFC # 93 did not detect early non-fatal breast cancer," reports Widschwendter. In comparison, mammography screening has a specificity of up to 92 percent, but leads to a very significant overdiagnosis. "This means that tumors are discovered that would never have caused clinical symptoms," said Widschwendter. The use of cell-free DNA as a marker is a promising way to avoid this problem.
Anti-hormone therapy for women with early breast cancer
According to the authors of the study, clinical trials are now required to assess whether women who have EFC # 93 DNA methylation markers and who do not have cancer that can be detected by mammography would benefit from anti-hormone therapy before the Cancer becomes visible in the breast. Professor Widschwendter's team is currently preparing a large-scale cell-free DNA research program for the population. (fp)