National Breast Cancer Awareness MonthOctober is observed as Breast Cancer Awareness Month in the United States. This annual campaign aims at raising awareness about the importance of the early detection of breast cancer. Though most women are aware about the disease, only few take the steps to have a plan in place to detect the disease in its early stages and to encourage others to do the same.

Cancer is caused by abnormal changes in the genes responsible for regulating the growth of cells and keeping them healthy. The most common cancer in women worldwide, breast cancer is a malignant tumor arising from the uncontrolled growth of breast cells. The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates that about 230,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women in the U.S. in 2015 and that about 40,000 women will die of the disease.

While some breast cancers are slow-growing, others can be aggressive. Early detection greatly increases the chances of survival. The mammogram, the most common screening test for breast cancer, can help find breast cancer early when it’s easier to treat. The third Friday in October is observed as National Mammography Day to encourage women to make a mammography appointment. This year, National Mammography Day falls on October 16.

Laboratory tests to detect breast cancer include various types of blood tests. Complete blood count (CBC) measures the amount of various types of blood cells in a blood sample and detects the presence of abnormal cells. Blood tests for cancer/tumor marker activity can detect cancer activity in the body. Other laboratory tests that may be ordered include urinalysis or a biopsy of a suspicious area.

Recently published research offers new hope for the detection of breast cancer before it develops and also in predicting the risk of recurrence of the disease. A team at the University of Copenhagen has developed a blood test that can predict breast cancer up to five years before it develops. The test aims at eradicating the problem of misdiagnosis and false positives caused by mammography. In the clinical trial, the researchers were able to predict the cancer two to five years in advance with 80% accuracy.

Another new blood test developed by researchers at the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) in the U.K. could predict breast cancer recurrence eight months earlier than conventional scanning methods. The test measures the level of circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA), which can provide a clue about whether the cancer will return.