London: Detecting changes in zinc in the body through a simple blood test could help diagnose breast cancer early, finds a research that holds promise of an easily-detectable biomarker of early breast cancer.
"It has been known for over a decade that breast cancer tissues contain high concentrations of zinc but the exact molecular mechanisms that might cause this have remained a mystery," said lead researcher 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," Larner added.
The pilot study analysed zinc in the blood and blood serum of 10 participants (five breast cancer patients and five healthy participants) alongside a range of breast tissue samples from breast cancer patients.
The researchers were able to show they could detect key differences in zinc caused when cancer subtly alters the way that cells process the metal.
This new understanding of cancer cell behaviour - in particular the role sulfur-containing proteins play in how tumours process zinc - could also help in the development of new cancer treatments, the researchers said.
"The hope is that this research is the beginning of a whole new approach," Larner pointed out.
The study appeared in the journal Metallomics.