Breast Cancer: A Blood Test
Among the seven billion people on planet Earth, one-half million die prematurely every year because of breast cancer. It is one of the most common cancers to affect women and in 2008 almost 1.4 million women were diagnosed. At the current rate of growth, one prediction has this number climbing another 50 percent – to 2.1 million by 2030.
Global breast cancer survival rates vary greatly, from below 40 percent in low-income countries to more than 80 percent in Sweden, Japan and North America. However no matter where people are, experts say survival rates could exceed 90 percent with the introduction of widespread, better and earlier detection. Indeed, the lower rates of survival in lesser-developed countries are attributed almost entirely to a lack of early detection programs. With women presenting jn later-stages of the disease and a general lack of adequate diagnostic centers, experts contend that survival rates are much lower than they need to be.
A new test from EventusDx, an Israeli life sciences company, aims to assist. With the recent completion of an eight-year project, the company now produces and distributes a relatively simple blood test that detects cancer. Although the company insists that its Octava Pink analysis should be used only as an adjunct to traditional mammographies, it nevertheless holds the potential to circumvent expensive and not-always-accessible mammograms. The lower cost and portability of the Octava Pink test could make breast cancer assessments available to untold numbers of people currently without access. Octava Pink is now available in Israel and Italy and currently under review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Octava Pink could possibly help eliminate up to one- half of the vast number of false negative results issued by mammograms. Studies show that 10 to 30 percent of “no cancer” mammogram reports are inaccurate.
Galit Yahalom, a molecular biologist and the leader of the EventusDx project’s team of fifteen biologists, examined the immune system activity of several groups of healthy women, women with breast cancer and both women and men with gender-specific cancers like ovarian and prostate. In so doing, they were successful in identifying which specific proteins (auto-antibodies) indicate cancer.
The new test does not, as conventional thought would dictate, seek to identify DNA mutations but, instead looks for changes in how the so-called breast cancer gene or BRCA1, functions. This could be significant because most cases of breast cancer are not caused by inherited DNA mutations but by epigenetic factors that can trigger mutations. Such triggers come from outside the body’s biology and can include stress, lack of exercise, alcohol use or smoking.
Yahalom acknowledged the critical information that was presented to the scientific community a decade ago, when a connection between the immune system and cancer was confirmed. She pointed out that such systems, when functioning properly, kill cancers when they are still very small. It is possible, in fact, that virtually everyone has had, if not breast cancer, some form of cancer, in their body at one time or another, she said. However for people coping with cancer, their immune systems are not functioning properly for various reasons.
By Gregory Baskin