Blood test 'could detect breast cancer years in advance'

Scientists believe a 'gene switch' could identify potential cases of breast cancer
Scientists believe a 'gene switch' could identify potential cases of breast cancer Photo: ITV News

A blood test that can detect breast cancer decades before the disease develops could be available in five years, scientists have announced.

The test could help doctors to identify women at high risk of the disease allowing them to take preventive medicines and switch to healthier lifestyles.

ITV News' Science Editor Lawrence McGinty reports the gene can be affected by environmental factors such as alcohol, smoking and pollution.

Researchers have identified a 'genetic switch', carried by one in five women, that doubles their risk of developing breast cancer.

Experts described the breakthrough by scientists at Imperial College London as "exciting" and said signs of the disease could be detected "many decades in advance".

Scientists claim 'Gene switch' can help to identify potential breast cancer cases
Scientists claim 'Gene switch' can help to identify potential breast cancer cases Credit: ITV News

Dr James Flanagan, who led the new research, said the test could be available in five to ten years. Dr Flanagan said:

We know that genetic variation contributes to a person's risk of disease. With this new study we can now also say that epigenetic variation, or differences in how genes are modified, also has a role.

We hope that this research is just the beginning of our understanding about the epigenetic component of breast cancer risk and in the coming years we hope to find many more examples of genes that contribute to a person's risk.

– Dr James Flanagan, Imperial College London

The research was funded by the Breast Cancer Campaign.