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Singling out the real breast cancer among the lumps
Date:10/25/2011

RICHLAND, Wash. -- Early detection of breast cancer saves thousands of lives each year. But screening for breast cancer also produces false alarms, which can cause undue stress and costly medical bills. Now, a recent study using patient blood reveals a possible way to reduce the number of false alarms that arise during early screening. Researchers found a panel of proteins shed by breast cancer that are easily detected and can distinguish between real cancer and benign lumps.

This study used diagnostic tools that are already in use in clinics. If the results can be replicated with more volunteers and over a longer period of time, the transition from research lab to clinical lab would be straightforward.

"We were surprised to see we could distinguish between accurate and false results produced by cancer screens such as mammograms," said Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory biologist Richard Zangar, who led the study published in the July issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. "We really want to expand the work to verify our findings."

Finding breast cancer is the first step to treating it, but mammograms have a high rate of false alarms. Many women go through unneeded, invasive follow-up tests. To improve the process, some researchers are working on a simple clinical blood test that would detect proteins shed by cancerous tissues.

Called biomarkers, these proteins aren't doing much better than mammograms when it comes to false positives in experimental studies. But researchers have been approaching biomarkers as if every type of breast cancer is the same. In reality, breast cancer exists as several subtypes, with each subtype having distinct characteristics.

For example, breast cancers that produce proteins called estrogen receptors are a different subtype from ones that don't and respond to different therapies. Zangar and colleagues wondered if looking for biomar
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Contact: Mary Beckman
mary.beckman@pnnl.gov
509-375-3688
DOE/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert  

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