Alberta Cancer Foundation

A New Blood Test Could Improve Accuracy in Breast Cancer Screening

Illustration by Kyle Schneider.

About 1,200 women in Calgary will undergo a blood biopsy this year, along with their regular mammogram to screen for breast cancer.

These women are part of an international clinical trial designed to assess a new breast cancer detection blood test, Breast CancerScout™. Developed by Syantra, a Calgary-based company, this test has the potential to change breast cancer screening protocols for women.

“One indication where this test may fit in is for patients who now have equivocal findings that might require a biopsy,” says Syantra spokesperson Farhan Farshori. “This is a comprehensive study to see if we can detect breast cancer independently, in order to guide the recommendations for the [traditional] biopsy.”

Currently, a screening mammogram is recommended for all women in Alberta between 50 and 74 years of age, while women 40 and older have an option to begin screening. (Women with known risk factors are advised to begin screening earlier and more frequently.)

But mammography is far from perfect. It has an accuracy rate of about 75 per cent, which means women often need additional mammograms, ultrasounds, magnetic resonance imaging or biopsies to confirm the presence of cancer.

Results from pre-clinical evaluation of Breast CancerScout revealed an accuracy of 87 per cent — higher than the performance of other detection methods, including screening mammography, mammography combined with a clinical breast examination and ultrasonography.

Clinicians will ultimately have to decide how the test will be used. It could be used as a follow-up to mammography, as a test for younger women who often have higher density breast tissue (which is problematic for mammography) or as part of a regular screening program for women with high risk for cancer.

Dr. Don Morris, head of medical oncology at the University of Calgary and section chief of medical oncology, CancerControl, Alberta Health Services, says the blood test would not replace mammography, but could be useful in combination with it, or as a follow-up test for women whose mammogram results are unclear. It could help identify which of these women should undergo a biopsy.

“When women have to undergo a biopsy and wait for the pathology, that’s a lot of mental anguish, if you will, as well as resource implication,” says Morris, who was involved with some of the early research for this test.

If a woman’s blood test result were positive, she would be recommended for further testing, which could be a biopsy or further imaging.

The ongoing clinical trials are being carried out in Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States and are currently enrolling participants who fit their eligibility criteria. Interested candidates in Calgary can contact the Alberta Cancer Research Biobank at acrb.ca before the study wraps up in March 2020.

The Early Detection Cancer Challenge

 

Clarity-DX Prostate and Breast CancerScout are supported by the Alberta-based Early Detection Cancer Challenge.

Last year, The Alberta Cancer Foundation, Alberta Innovates and DynaLIFE Medical Labs launched the near-$2.5-million diagnostics challenge to en- courage local companies to create new tools for the early diagnosis and detection of cancer.

The goals of the challenge are twofold: to help patients by detecting cancer earlier, and to diversify Alberta’s economy by encouraging business development in the health-care sector.

The early detection and diagnosis of cancer, when combined with effective and accessible treatment, reduces cancer-related mortality.