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Zinc blood test could help detect cancer

A metal-detecting blood test could one day form part of a screening programme for early signs of breast cancer.

Scientists have discovered that breast cancer cells contain high concentrations of zinc consisting of "light" atomic variants, or isotopes.

They expect to find a corresponding isotopic signature in the blood that would provide a simple way to detect breast cancer before the formation of noticeable tumours.

British researchers borrowed techniques normally used by earth scientists to study climate change and planetary formation.


"Breast cancer tissues contain high concentrations of zinc, but the exact molecular mechanisms that might cause this have remained a mystery," said lead researcher Dr Fiona Larner, from Oxford University.

"Our work shows that techniques commonly used in earth sciences can help us to understand not only how zinc is used by tumour cells but also how breast cancer can lead to changes in zinc in an individual's blood.

"This hold out the promise of an easily detectable biomarker of early breast cancer."

She hoped that within 10 years the test would be used to screen all women in the UK for early signs of breast cancer.

In the shorter term it was likely to be reserved for high-risk women with inherited breast cancer genes, such as BRCA1 or 2.