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Friday, October 23, 1998 Published at 16:34 GMT 17:34 UK


Breast cancer test appeal

The new test is claimed to be cheaper and more accurate than mammograms

A charity is seeking donations to help further research into an early DNA detection test for breast cancer.

Quest Cancer Research has been supporting research at King's College, London, into a test which may be more accurate than mammograms.

But it says it needs £500,000 for the early tests to be applied to a larger group of women.

The new technique involves samples of breast cells being extracted by a fine needle.

Andrew Sincock, a senior research fellow at King's College, has been working on the test for seven years.

He says it has a 90-95% accuracy rate, but has only been tested on hundreds of samples of a full range of tumours.

Dr Sincock says current tests have only an 80% accuracy level and can be subjective.

He wants to expand the research to 2-3,000 women and have it clinically assessed.

Three stages

The results so far have been published in some magazines, but not in the more well-known peer review medical journals.

The test is conducted in three stages. The sample is first measured for any DNA changes in the tissue by staining the cells.

Cancerous cells are believed to absorb more of the dye than normal ones. This stage picks up around 55% of cancers, according to Dr Sincock.

The second stage involves putting the tissue under a laser microscope to further examine for abnormalities which show up as white fluourescence.

Thirdly, the sample is tested for changes to chromosomes which could be linked to the presence of cancer.

This picks up genetic abnormalities which might put a woman at high risk of developing cancer.

Dr Sincock says the test is particularly good for picking up cancer at an early stage and in detecting cases in young women.

Mammograms and biopsies often miss cases in young women because their breast tissue is more dense, making cancer difficult to pick up.

Dr Sincock says high density tissue helps in his test because it provides more tissue to work on.

Breast milk

He is also hoping to develop ways of extracting tissue samples without using needles.

[ image: Laboratory tests show a 90-95% accuracy rate for the new test, says Mr Sincock]
Laboratory tests show a 90-95% accuracy rate for the new test, says Mr Sincock
Many women do not like having needles stuck into their body and he believes there may be ways of getting tissue cells by extracting milk from the woman's breast.

Dr Sincock says ductile cells from the whole breast can be found in breast milk.

He has not had much response from calls for more funding, but says he has had a lot of interest in his papers from the USA and Europe.

"We seem to be a bit reticent in this country to take chances in clinical terms which means we tend to lag behind and end up having to pay more for treatments," he said.

Early detection

Jean Pitt, who set up Quest Cancer Research after her son died of cancer, held a press conference in the House of Commons this week to launch an appeal for funding for further research.

Her charity funds research into techniques for developing cancer in the early stages when it is more responsive to treatment.

The Imperial Cancer Research Fund said its breast cancer experts did not know of the research and would expect to see serious research published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

"This does not mean it might not be great," said a spokeswoman.

Breast cancer affects one in 12 women in the UK and is the most common form of cancer in women.

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