Blood test predicts future breast cancer risk

"No single part of the pattern is actually necessary, nor sufficient. It is the whole pattern that predicts the cancer," says Lars Ove Dragsted. (Credit: LTD Team at Edge Hill University/Flickr)

A new test that analyzes all compounds (metabolites) in a blood sample can predict with 80 percent accuracy the likelihood a woman will develop breast cancer within the next two to five years.

While the new method, called a metabolic blood profile, is not perfect, says Rasmus Bro, a professor of chemometrics at the University of Copenhagen, it appears to offer some advantages over mammography, which can detect newly developed breast cancer with a sensitivity of 75 percent.

“The method is better than mammography, which can only be used when the disease has already occurred,” says Bro, who stresses that the method has been tested and validated only for a single population (cohort) and needs to be validated more widely before it can be used practically.

Nevertheless, the method could create a paradigm shift in early diagnosis of breast cancer as well as other diseases.

“The potential is that we can detect a disease like breast cancer much earlier than today. This is important as it is easier to treat if you discover it early,” says Lars Ove Dragsted, a professor of biomedicine.

The method was developed in cooperation with the Danish Cancer Society, and the study was recently published in Metabolomics.

Holistic approach

The new approach involves analyzing all compounds in a blood sample instead of a single biomarker.

“When a huge amount of relevant measurements from many individuals is used to assess health risks—here, breast cancer—it creates very high quality information. The more measurements our analyses contain, the better the model handles complex problems,” explains Bro.


The model does not reveal anything about the importance of the single biomarkers in relation to breast cancer, but it does reveal the importance of a set of biomarkers and their interactions.

“No single part of the pattern is actually necessary, nor sufficient. It is the whole pattern that predicts the cancer,” says Dragsted.

The research is based on a population study of 57,000 people followed by the Danish Cancer Society for more than 20 years. The participants were first examined in 1994-96, during which time their weight and other measurements were recorded and they answered a questionnaire. They also provided a blood sample that was stored in liquid nitrogen.

The scientists used the 20-year-old blood samples and other available data from 400 women who were healthy when they were first examined but who were diagnosed with breast cancer two to seven years after providing the first sample, and from 400 women who did not develop breast cancer.

The method also was used to test a different dataset of women examined in 1997. Predictions based on the new set of data matched the first dataset, which suggests the validity of the model.

Source: University of Copenhagen