Future Blood Test for Breast Cancer?

For many years, researchers have explored possible “biomarkers” for breast cancer. These are molecules that would allow clinicians to easily test for breast cancer with non-invasive, less costly diagnostic tests. In addition to diagnostics, the identification of certain biomarkers (e.g. Her2Neu) has  revealed different types of breast cancer that have significantly better or worse outcomes. This has the potential of avoiding the overtreatment of some cancers and could lead to  the development of targeted treatments for others.  While many biomarkers have been explored, none has led to such a practical diagnostic test.

Recently, researchers at the Houston Methodist Research Institute published research that they believe could one day lead to a blood test for breast cancer. The test, which utilizes nanotechnology, is able to detect the activity of an enzyme known as CPN. It does this by measuring levels of small proteins that the enzyme produces. While increased CPN activity is isolated to the cancer cells, the small protein byproducts make their way into the blood and circulate through the body, making them ideal candidates for a blood biomarker.

Interpretations and Implications

As mentioned, many researchers have attempted to identify biomarkers for the creation of a blood test for breast cancer, with little luck to date. The current research is promising, but has many years to go before it may have real clinical application. The current results come from animal models and tests of human cell lines. The correlation between a biomarker and a serious tumor has to be precise, or more women will simply be overdiagnosed and overtreated. In addition, while the blood test appeared to work well for detecting early types of breast cancer, circulating levels of the proteins dropped over time, suggesting that it may not work well for later-stage cancers, which unfortunately are those with worse outcomes.

Source: Li Y et al. 2014. “Circulating Proteolytic Products of Carboxypeptidase N for Early Detection of Breast Cancer,” Clinical Chemistry [60(1):233-4].


jess Werder headshot BWJessica Werder, Health Researcher, Community Outreach Manager

Jess Werder earned an M.P.H. from State University of New York (SUNY) at Albany, is Community Outreach Manager for the Fairfax County Health Department in Virginia. With the Peace Corps in Nicaragua from 2008-2010, she was a Community Health Promoter whose responsibility was to design, implement and evaluate department-wide community health programs, then, on her return to the States, continued this work with the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs (AFOP). She was a graduate fellow at the SUNY Center for Women in Government and a Lecturer in the Department of Women’s Studies at U Albany. She now lives in the Washington, DC area with her husband and two young children. Jess currently researches and writes the “Recent Research” column for Capital Region Action Against Breast Cancer! (CRAAB!), a community-based non-profit created in 1997 by a diverse group of caregivers, health practitioners, educators, advocates and breast cancer survivor. BCC is pleased to republish some of these insightful analyses in our own Research Briefs.


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