SCARBOROUGH, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- Imagine if there were a blood test that could determine whether you're at risk for cancer?
Sounds pretty incredible but scientists here in Maine are on the brink of developing this new tool which could save a lot of lives.
Several years ago, research scientist Lucy Liaw began studying a protein that was showing up in the blood of breast cancer patients.
"Normally there is not a lot of this circulating in our blood, but when cancer occurs, the tumor cells start to make a variety of proteins that are abnormal and the biomarker is one of these proteins," said Liaw.
Liaw has worked on a number of clinical trials at the Maine Medical Center Research Institute. Using those findings, she and her team have developed a blood test that shows how much of this protein is in the patient's blood.
"This blood test allows us to screen different cancer patients and test our idea whether it's really true, whether or not advanced stage breast cancer patients will have high levels of this biomarker," said Liaw.
Doctors say breast cancer is often difficult to treat because it can quickly spread to other organs in the body. Liaw says doctors can use the blood test as a diagnostic tool for patients who are at high risk for cancer.
"A biomarker works because if a person has very early stage cancer that is not yet detected, we expect that this level of the biomarker can go up and show that this person may be highly likely or or perhaps have early stages of cancer."
Liaw's team is now researching the blood of patients who are at risk for breast cancer. but she says higher levels of the bio marker don't necessarily mean they have cancer or will be diagnosed with the disease in the future.
The research has found that this biomarker is also showing up in other cancers including skin, prostate and lung and scientists plan on expanding the study to include these diseases in the future.
And that research may now give doctors another tool in detecting cancer early, and saving more lives.
It will take another year or two to develop the diagnostic test for patients who may be at risk for cancer. the institute though is already talking to several pharaceutical companies interested in funding the project. If you would like to know more about other discoveries in the fight against cancer tune in to a one hour special airing Wednesday night at eight o'clock.