Dr. Nicholas Turner led researchers from the Royal Marsden Hospital and the Institute of Cancer Research, both in London. Their study involved 55 women who had been treated for early-stage breast cancer. Their blood samples were tested for DNA shed by cancer cells as they grow and die.
The results showed that some women had cancer DNA that appeared over time, and others had the DNA in their blood right after treatment. That was a sign that the cancer was still somewhere in their body after surgery or chemotherapy.
The test is also being used to aid in future treatment plans, showing how the cancer cells have grown or mutated.
"We have shown how a simple blood test has the potential to accurately predict which patients will relapse from breast cancer, much earlier than we can currently," Dr. Turner told the Daily Mail. "We also used blood tests to build a picture of how the cancer was evolving over time, and this information could be invaluable to help doctors select the correct drugs to treat the cancer."
Research continues with the hope that the doctors can stay one step ahead of breast cancer and possibly find even earlier methods of detection and treatment. There is also work being done to broaden this test for other forms of cancer, like prostate, bowel or lung.
"This test could help us stay a step ahead of cancer by monitoring the way it is changing and picking treatments that exploit the weakness of the particular tumor. It is really fantastic that we can get such a comprehensive insight about what is going on in the cancer all over the body, without the need for invasive biopsies," Professor Paul Workman, chief executive of the Institute of Cancer Research, informed the Daily Mail.
The test is not yet suitable for broad use in hospitals everywhere, but the goal is to have it available as early as 2020.