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Do serum biomarkers really measure breast cancer?

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BMC Cancer. 2009 May 9 ().

Because screening mammography for breast cancer is less effective for premenopausal women, we investigated the feasibility of a diagnostic blood test using serum proteins.

This study used a set of 98 serum proteins and chose diagnostically relevant subsets via various feature-selection techniques. Because of significant noise in the data set, we applied iterated Bayesian model averaging to account for model selection uncertainty and to improve generalization performance. We assessed generalization performance using leave-one-out cross-validation (LOOCV) and receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curve analysis.

The classifiers were able to distinguish normal tissue from breast cancer with a classification performance of AUC = 0.82 +/- 0.04 with the proteins MIF, MMP-9, and MPO. The classifiers distinguished normal tissue from benign lesions similarly at AUC = 0.80 +/- 0.05. However, the serum proteins of benign and malignant lesions were indistinguishable (AUC = 0.55 +/- 0.06). The classification tasks of normal vs. cancer and normal vs. benign selected the same top feature: MIF, which suggests that the biomarkers indicated inflammatory response rather than cancer.

Overall, the selected serum proteins showed moderate ability for detecting lesions. However, they are probably more indicative of secondary effects such as inflammation rather than specific for malignancy.