“We need to develop and further validate this test,” said Ms Alfattani. “However, these results are encouraging and indicate that it’s possible to detect a signal for early breast cancer. Once we have improved the accuracy of the test, then it opens the possibility of using a simple blood test to improve early detection of the disease.”
The researchers are now testing samples from 800 patients and expect the accuracy of the test to improve with these larger numbers.
“A blood test for early breast cancer detection would be cost effective,” Ms Alfattani said.
“It would also be an easier screening method to implement compared to current methods, such as mammography.”
Researchers said that with sufficient investment, tests could be available in clinics in four to five years.
Similar methods are being tested for lung cancer, pancreatic, bowel and liver disease.
“A blood test capable of detecting any of these cancers at an early stage is the over-riding objective of our work,” Ms Alfattani said.
Dr Kotryna Temcinaite, from charity Breast Cancer Now, said: “It’s really promising that a simple blood test could in future help clinicians detect autoantibodies that may arise before breast tumours develop. While these are early findings, it’s exciting that testing for these autoantibodies could potentially help detect breast cancer earlier or identify women who may benefit from being monitored more closely.”
Dr Iain Frame, chief executive of NCRI said: “The results from this pilot study for a blood test to detect early breast cancer are promising and build on this research group’s expertise in other cancers, such as lung cancer. It’s obviously early days but we look forward to seeing the results from the larger group of patients that are now being investigated.”
Prof Paul Pharoah, Professor of Cancer Epidemiology, University of Cambridge, said early tests for cancer were a major research goal, but said the study did not provide evidence that breast cancer could be spotted five years before symptoms.
He expressed caution about the significance of the results, saying the current sensitivity of the test was too low to be used as an early detection test.