Zinc is an important trace mineral that people need to stay healthy. This element is second only to iron in its concentration in the body. It is needed for the body’s defensive (immune) system to properly work. It plays a role in cell division, cell growth, wound healing, and the breakdown of carbohydrates.
Zinc is available through foods such as beef, pork, shellfish, peanuts, and legumes. It may be possible to develop a simple blood test that, by detecting changes in the zinc in our bodies, could help to diagnose breast cancer early.
In a study, researchers were able to show that changes in the isotopic composition of zinc, which can be detected in a person’s breast tissue, could make it possible to identify a ‘biomarker’ (a measurable indicator) of early breast cancer.
A report of the research by the Oxford University-led team, which included researchers from Imperial College London and the Natural History Museum, London, is published in the Royal Society of Chemistry journal Metallomics.
The pilot study analysed zinc in the blood and blood serum of ten subjects (five breast cancer patients and five healthy controls) alongside a range of breast tissue samples from breast cancer patients. By using techniques that are over 100 times more sensitive to changes in the isotopic composition of metals than anything currently used by clinicians, the researchers were able to show that they could detect key differences in zinc caused when cancer subtly alters the way that cells process the metal. Similar changes in copper in one of the breast cancer patients is additional evidence that it may be possible to identify a biomarker for early breast cancer that could form the basis of a simple, non-invasive, diagnostic blood test.