Carbohydrate biomarker that improves screening for breast cancer (lat. Carcinoma) patients was developed by scientists from the University of British Columbia. People diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer have a five-year survival rate of more than 93 percent. However, one problem that has eluded health professionals is identifying high-risk cancer patients amongst those already diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer. Karla Williams, an assistant professor at the University of British Columbia (UBC), is using a sugar found on aggressive cancer cells surface that acts as a biomarker to detect high-risk cancer in patients.

Right now, with early-stage breast cancer, diagnostics can’t really tell who needs aggressive treatment such as chemotherapy or radiation and who doesn’t need it. This research has identified a specific sugar that is only present on aggressive cancer cells. Karla Williams goal is to develop a blood test to use alongside current diagnostics to detect whether these cancer cells are aggressive and likely to spread further.

Karla Williams says a blood test to detect this sugar as a biomarker has several benefits including being less invasive than surgery and reducing the need for unnecessary chemotherapy or radiation treatments. This test will detect whether or not someone has elevated levels of the glycan on the breast tissue and if they do, the clinician can suggest a strict course of treatment. If the glycan is absent, the patient could have the lump removed, completely bypassing radiation and chemotherapy. This research received GlycoNet translational grant funding for this two-year project. GlycoNet funding is allowing Karla Williams to collaborate with pathologist Dr. Peter Watson from the BC Cancer Agency, to gather tissue specimens and blood for analysis in her UBC lab.

Karla Williams believes this blood test would provide improved information for all patients diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer. She says having more information will allow the patient to confidently say they do not need treatments or that chemotherapy and radiation treatments would definitely benefit them. According to scientists, when someone is told they have a lump in their breast, there is a lot of emotional stress and concern. Their hope with this research is that they can build a blood test which will give meaningful information to clinicians to provide the appropriate treatment for the patient. Dr. Williams has taken an innovative approach to expanding the use of this glycan biomarker to detect other forms of cancer and this will fill an urgent need in the medical community.