Researchers develop tech to detect breast cancer with blood test

Mammograms and physical breast exams have been the standards of breast cancer detection for years.

Now researchers at Arizona State University are thinking outside the box when it comes to early detection. It involves a blood test that could determine whether or not you have breast cancer, even before you get a mammogram.

These researchers are focusing on a particularly aggressive form of breast cancer called "Triple Negative."

"Triple Negative Breast Cancer" occurs most frequently in women of color and young women, and can be hard to detect on a mammogram. That's why ASU researcher Dr. Joshua LaBaer and his colleagues are developing a blood test that can detect the cancer at the earliest stages. And their research could have huge implications for other forms of cancer detection, too.

Imagine taking a simple blood test that detects an aggressive form of breast cancer. That's exactly what Dr. Joshua LaBaer and his researchers are working on at ASU's Virginia G Piper Center for Personalized Diagnostics.

"It turns out our own immune system can detect cancers because of proteins that are unusual in cancers and not present in healthy people," said Dr. Joshua LaBaer.

Dr. LaBaer has been researching these unusual proteins for five years, looking for antibodies or "biomarkers" that signal disease.

"It is the type of breast cancer for which we need more and better therapies, and we really do need to be able to find this earlier," said Dr. Karen Anderson.

Dr. Karen Anderson also researches cancer at ASU. She joined in the lab where researchers developed special technology to study cancer biomarkers. The technology uses thousands of human gene samples from all around the world analyzed by advanced computer programs.

"These particular biomarkers may have use for other types of cancers, and in particular we're looking at them for ovarian cancer as well because triple negative breast cancer and ovarian cancer sometimes go hand in hand," she said.

"A lot of women don't get mammograms for a variety of reasons; they're not accessible to them, or they don't get around to them, so having a blood test is a compliment to imaging studies, and that's really why we're going after blood tests," said Dr. LaBaer.

Dr. LaBaer's work on biomarkers was recently published and validated in a very large study. Researchers still need to run several more studies before the blood test becomes available to the public.