An experimental blood test may one day detect the return of early-stage breast cancer months before it is revealed by computed tomography or magnetic resonance imaging, researchers report in Science Translational Medicine.

Nicholas Turner, M.D., Ph.D., of the Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Centre at the Institute of Cancer Research in London, and colleagues studied 55 early-stage breast cancer patients who had undergone chemotherapy followed by surgery.

Blood samples were taken regularly for about two years after surgery to look for tumor-specific mutations in the patients’ blood.

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Fifteen patients eventually saw their cancer return. Of these, 12 were identified by the blood test about eight months before conventional imaging detected the cancer, the researchers reported. The noninvasive test was able to find metastatic tumors in all parts of the body except the brain.

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This may mean that the blood-brain barrier prevents DNA in brain tumors from getting into the bloodstream, the authors said.

In some patients, the blood test found drug-resistant mutations. Knowing this, physicians can design treatments to target these mutations, Turner told HealthDay.


  1. Garcia-Murillas I, Schiavon G, Weigelt B, et al. Mutation tracking in circulating tumor DNA predicts relapse in early breast cancer. Science Translational Medicine. 2015. DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aab0021.