This appears to be more of an accidental discovery – but Oxford University scientists in their quest to develop a system – through a simple blood test, for determining how the body processes metals have come up with the ability to diagnose breast cancer at its earliest stages.

They set out to determine how the body manages metal zinc in the human body – using blood tests, but they got more than they expected, a bonus discovery of the ability to detect breast cancer possibilities before any other screening method could detect it. The researchers found that changes in the zinc structure within breast tissues could be indicative of breast cancers – because isotopic zinc changes could be biomarkers of the condition.

According to Dr. Fiona Larner of the Oxford University’s Department of Earth Sciences, “It has been known for over a decade that breast cancer tissues contain high concentrations of zinc but the exact molecular mechanisms that might cause this have remained a mystery,” she said and later added that “We are hoping that the study marks the new beginning in the fight against cancer. Understanding how different cancers alter different trace metals within the body could enable us to develop both new diagnostic tools and new treatments that could lead to a ‘two-pronged’ attack on many cancers.”

Five women with a history of breast cancer were used for the study, and another five women without any symptoms of breast cancer were adopted for a control experiment – and they all had their levels of blood zinc analyzed. The researchers were able to detect some significant levels of isotopic zinc that is a result of the changes that occur in cells when cancer infections affect the metal zinc.

Published in Metallomics, the journal of the Royal Society of Chemistry, it is expected that identifying the aforementioned biomarkers would greatly help to diagnose early breast cancer warnings before it ever become obvious in conventional breast cancer screenings.

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