Identifying a panel of tumor-associated antigens and autoantibodies through a simple blood test may one day help providers diagnose the earliest stages of breast cancer, before clinical signs appear.

United Kingdom researchers presented their findings at the 2019 National Cancer Research Institute Cancer Conference in Glasgow, UK. Using blood samples from 180 patients (90 women with breast cancer and 90 healthy controls), they applied a protein microarray to search for 40 tumor-associated antigens linked to breast cancer and 27 that are not associated with the disease.

The test was completed at three levels: five, seven, or nine antigen markers. The more markers they used, the more accurate the results: the nine-market test identified 37% of the cancers and found no cancer in 79% of the controls.

The researchers said that additional work is needed to develop and further validate the test; “however, these results are encouraging and indicate that it’s possible to detect a signal for early breast cancer.”