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Can Blood Test Predict Breast Cancer Risk?
Date:5/1/2012

TUESDAY, May 1 (HealthDay News) -- A blood test that spots changes in a specific gene could reveal a woman's risk for breast cancer years before the disease has a chance to develop, researchers report.

British scientists analyzed blood samples from 640 breast cancer patients and 741 women without breast cancer. The samples from the breast cancer patients were collected an average of three years before they were diagnosed with the disease.

The objective was to find out if the alteration of single genes by a process called methylation could predict a woman's breast cancer risk.

The researchers found that women with the highest level of methylation on one area of a gene called ATM were two times more likely to develop cancer than those with the lowest level of methylation. Methylation is a critical process where chemicals known as "methyl groups" are added to DNA, to make sure everything is in good working order. High levels of methylation signal high levels of DNA trouble.

This result was particularly pronounced in blood samples taken from women under the age of 60, Dr. James Flanagan, a Breast Cancer Campaign scientific fellow in the department of surgery and cancer at Imperial College London, said in a news release from the Breast Cancer Campaign.

The study was published May 1 in the journal Cancer Research.

Unlike previous studies that took blood from breast cancer patients after diagnosis, these blood samples identified alterations in the ATM gene that did not occur because of having active cancer or cancer treatments.

The findings provide strong evidence that looking for this type of alteration in individual genes could be used as a blood test to help predict a woman's chances of developing breast cancer, the researchers said.

Used in combination with other breast cancer risk assessment tools such as genetic testing and risk factor profiling, this blood test could help identify w
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