A potentially ground-breaking new blood test to detect breast cancer could soon be launched in Australia, providing hope for the country’s growing number of breast cancer patients.
Breast cancer is currently the most diagnosed cancer amongst women in Australia, with one in seven women diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime and approximately 57 Australians diagnosed every day – that is over 20,000 people each year.
BCAL Diagnostics executive chair Jayne Shaw has worked with scientists, clinicians, and researchers in New South Wales for over 14 years, to develop a new screening tool which uses artificial intelligence and lipid profiles to detect breast cancer.
“The test is based on a lipid profile, fats. We extract your blood, we run it through an algorithm, software program, looking at the algorithm or fingerprint of those lipids and that differentiates whether you have got breast cancer or not in your blood system,” Ms Shaw told A Current Affair.
The new technology allows for early detection of breast cancer, which could be a game-changer in increasing survival rates.
Data from the National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF) shows that the average five-year survival rate for Stage 1 (early) breast cancer is 100 per cent, with Stage 2 at 95 per cent and Stage 3 (locally advanced cancers) at 83 per cent. However, the survival rate for Stage 4 breast cancer (metastatic breast cancer) is drastically lower, at just 32 per cent.
Since the NBCF began funding in 1994, Australia has seen a 43 per cent decrease in death rates from breast cancer, which can be attributed to the ongoing advances in prevention, early detection, and treatments of breast cancer. However, despite this reduction, over 3,200 Australians, including 30 to 40 males, lost their lives to the disease in 2022, with 9 Australians still dying from breast cancer each day.
Apart from breast checks, mammograms are currently the main screening tool and the most effective breast cancer detection method in Australia. Despite this, they are not 100 per cent accurate, and in a small number of cases, will not show any abnormalities on the scan despite breast cancer being present.
“Mammograms were established in Australia about 30 years ago and if you think about phones 30 years ago to where phones are today, there had to be new technology and that had to be around the blood test,” Ms Shaw said.
Mammograms are also generally only recommended for women over the age of 40. Approximately 80 per cent of breast cancer cases occur in women over the age of 50, with around 1,000 young women diagnosed with breast cancer each year, averaging three young women every day.
As well as this, about 50 per cent of women who are eligible for mammograms choose not to have one for cultural reasons, pain, and accessibility issues, particularly for women living in remote areas.
With the new blood screening tool, patients could have access to an easier breast cancer screening option, making early detection much more accessible for all Australians. The blood test is yet to be approved in Australia, however, with the BCAL Diagnostics lab officially launched this month, the team is hopeful to have it available for use alongside mammograms next year.
Until then, BCAL Diagnostics will require more samples from women for clinical studies to expedite and solidify the scientific basis behind the test.