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Early Breast Cancer Detected with Urine

Jun 12, 2015 07:21 AM EDT
Pictured: A microarray used to detect concentrations of microRNA in urine samples.
(Photo : Medical Center, University of Freiburg)

Early breast cancer can now be detected with simple urine samples, according to a new study.

The method, described in the journal BMC Cancer and developed by researchers at the University of Freiburg, involves determining the concentration of molecules that regulate cell metabolism and that are often dysregulated in cancer cells. These molecules, referred to as microRNAs, enter into the urine over the blood. By determining the composition of microRNAs in the urine, the scientists were successful 91 percent of the time in determining if a test subject was healthy or diseased.

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in women. It impacts about 1.7 million women worldwide and claims more than 520 thousand lives each year. Until now, doctors have relied on mammography or ultrasound to detect breast cancer, confirming their diagnoses with tissue samples. However, these methods have been subject to recurring criticism due to radiation exposure, erroneous results, and the fact that they involve an invasive intervention.

Now, if this study's results are confirmed with future research, it may offer a simpler and less invasive way of detecting breast cancer in women.

During the study, researchers measured urine concentrations of nine microRNAs - short genetic sequences that regulate cell metabolism. However, only four of the nine molecules exhibited significant differences in concentration between healthy and diseased test subjects, so those are the ones that the team focused on.

"We discovered that the microRNA profile in the urine is modified in a characteristic way in the urine of test subjects with breast cancer," lead author Dr. Elmar Stickeler said in a statement. "MicroRNAs should thus be suitable in principle for a breast cancer test."

The study included 24 healthy test subjects and 24 women who had recently been diagnosed with a breast tumor, either in stage 1, 2, or 3.

With the help of the microRNA profiles, the researchers were able to determine with 91 percent accuracy whether the women had breast cancer or not.

Using urine is not only less invasive - it doesn't require blood or tissue samples, and only a few milliliters of urine are needed - but it's also demonstrated as being effective.

"Our method could encourage more women to undertake an examination of this kind, enabling us to detect breast cancer earlier," Stickeler said. "The earlier breast cancer is detected, the better we can treat it."

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