Predicting Breast Cancer

POSTED: Friday, December 4, 2009 - 1:05pm

UPDATED: Wednesday, February 17, 2010 - 3:25pm

Researchers refine test to more accurately determine woman's breast cancer risk...

39-year-old Melinda Maletic just had her first mammogram.

"I think it's important to be screened," she said.

Now -- by giving just three teaspoons of her blood, she's playing a critical role in breast cancer research.

For Melinda, the fight against the disease is personal, "I have a really good friend who just passed away from breast cancer ... so the earlier you know, the better."

Melinda joins more than 20-thousand other bay area women who have given a blood sample at California Pacific Medical Center for researchers to study.

By studying their blood, researchers hope one day they'll be able to develop a blood test that can detect whether a woman is at higher risk of developing breast cancer.

Researchers have already discovered an important link between how much tissue is in a woman's breast ... or her breast density ... and a higher risk of developing breast cancer.

A risk even higher than family history.

"We think that breast cancers come out of tissue in the breast, not the fat so therefore the more tissue in a breast the greater the risk of developing breast cancer," Dr. Steve Cummings, a breast cancer researcher, said.

Doctors also say it's much harder to detect tumors in the mammogram of a woman with dense breasts.

But why do some women have dense breasts and others don't?

Researchers are looking for answers in volunteers' blood.

"Right now the blood that's been stored from participants in the study is being used to understand what the genetic basis of breast density might be. If we can understand the genes that contribute to it we can find new ways of preventing breast cancer," Dr. Cummings said.

Researchers are also studying blood for hormones and genetic markers that may increase a woman's risk of breast cancer.

Scientists don't see a blood test ever replacing a mammogram.

But they do hope one day it will be used *with* the traditional screening to accurately assess high risk patients ... giving them the early warning needed to start taking potentially life saving medications.

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