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Researchers Explore Possibility of Breast Cancer Blood Test (dateline April 28, 2008)

A protein called mammastatin is being studied to determine whether it can help predict which women are likely to develop breast cancer. First identified in 1986, mammastatin is thought to be produced naturally by breast cells. Research has shown that the mammastatin protein may be absent or present in lower than average levels in breast cancer patients. A company called Abviva recently obtain a patent by the United States Patent and Trademark Office as the exclusive licensee of the diagnostic uses for Mammastatin.

While research is still early, according to Abviva, the new patent signifies the increased importance of the Mammastatin Serum Assay for early breast cancer detection. The MSA is a blood test that identifies and measures the amount of Mammastatin in women. Supporters of the MSA test have likened it to the PSA test that is used to determine a man's risk of prostate cancer.

The MSA was first developed from the Mammastatin technology discovered by scientists at the University of Michigan Cancer Center. It has been called a risk-assessment tool intended to be used by physicians, clinics and hospitals to aid in the early detection of breast cancer and as a broad population based early breast cancer screening test.

The MSA was previously studied on women with and without breast cancer. According to Abviva, in the original studies, 98% of the women who reported never being diagnosed with breast cancer or treated for breast cancer had normal or elevated levels of Mammastatin, as measured by the MSA. Moreover, 74% of the women in the studies who reported being diagnosed with breast cancer or being treated for breast cancer had no detectable levels of Mammastatin present or very low levels. According to Abviva, these findings correlated with the original research conducted at the University of Michigan Cancer Center that demonstrated Mammastatin was normally produced by breast epithelial cells in healthy women and was missing or reduced in transformed breast epithelial cells.

Research is still in preliminary phases and the MSA is not yet available to women. However, if research continues to be positive, Abviva intends to begin offering the MSA later this year.

If and when the MSA becomes available, it is important to note that it would likely be used on a limited basis and will not replace standard diagnostic exams. Mammography is the current gold standard in breast cancer detection and has been shown to detect approximately 85% of all breast cancers. Mammography is recommended on an annual basis for women beginning at age 40. In addition, many experts recommend that all women 20 years of age and older perform monthly breast self exams and have regular clinical breast exams to help detect breast cancer early.

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