A team of scientists has found that ovarian cancer could be identified up to a year in advance thanks to a new method of spotting DNA patterns in blood samples.
The research, published in Genome Medicine, was led by scientists from University College London. The team identified a region of DNA called EFC#93, which displayed abnormal patterns of DNA methylation when breast cancer was present.
DNA methylation is when methyl groups are added to DNA, modifying the function of the genes and the gene expression. These changes have been found to occur early in breast cancer development.
Every year 522,000 women die from breast cancer, which is the most common cancer in women. However, it has a 90 percent cure rate if it is detected early, making research like this hugely beneficial. Medical imaging known as mammography is often used for early diagnosis, but the method is limited.
"For the first time, our study provides evidence that serum DNA methylation markers such as EFC#93 provide a highly specific indicator that could diagnose fatal breast cancers up to one year in advance of current diagnosis,” Professor Martin Widschwendter, lead author on the study from University College London, said in a statement.
“This may enable individualized treatment, which could even begin in the absence of radiological evidence in the breast."
In the study, a total of 1,869 blood serum samples and 31 tissues were used, across healthy women and those with ovarian cancer. Of the samples, 419 were taken from patients after surgery and then after chemotherapy was completed.
The results showed that in 88 percent of cases, ovarian cancer could be detected 1-2 years before it was usually diagnosed, notes New Scientist. People with ovarian cancer were spotted with 91 percent accuracy in a follow-up study.
The team hopes the test could be used in population-wide screening, helping prevent premature deaths. The next step will be for clinical trials to see how useful the technique could be, but the results so far are certainly promising.
“Detection of EFC#93 serum DNAme patterns offers a new tool for early diagnosis and management of disseminated breast cancers,” the team writes in their paper.
(H/T: New Scientist)