German hospital apologises for 'false hope' over new 'non-invasive' breast cancer blood test

German hospital apologises for 'false hope' over new 'non-invasive' breast cancer blood test
By Shafi Musaddique
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A German university hospital has apologised for a controversial PR campaign surrounding a breast cancer blood test it publicised in February


A German university hospital has apologised for a controversial PR campaign surrounding a blood test it developed, which said could detect breast cancer cells in patients.

A press release bearing the logo of Heidelberg University Hospital referred to the test as "a milestone in breast cancer diagnostics" and said its market launch was "planned this year".

However, medical groups, doctors and statisticians have criticised studies into the test, saying decisive data on its benefits was missing.

False Alarms

Speaking at a press conference in February, managing medical director of the University Women’s Hospital Christof Sohn did not mention the rate of false alarms the blood test returned — how many healthy women had a false alarm with the method — despite being asked. Sohn later stated this figure was at 30%.

In addition, the results of tests have not been published in a peer-review journal, as is the usual scientific practice in Germany.

This means the the test is not yet on the market, Doris Rübsam-Brodkorb, a spokeswoman for the hospital, told DPA.

The distribution channels and how costs will be dealt with by health insurance companies must first be clarified, she added.

Researchers at the University Women's Hospital, a branch of Heidelberg University Hospital, said in February that the new method of 'liquid biopsy" is “non-invasive” and has already detected 15 different types of breast cancer cells in patients.

Blood tests can also be used to detect small tumours, researchers added.

“The blood test developed by our team of researchers offers a new and revolutionary opportunity to detect cancer in the breast quickly and non-invasively using biomarkers in the blood,” said Sohn at the time.

“The new blood-based procedure is much less of a burden on women since it isn’t painful and doesn’t involve exposure to radiation,” said Sarah Schott, head of familial cancers at the hospital.

Heidelberg University Hospital said the test is particularly beneficial for women under the age of 50 and those with a family history of breast cancer.

The blood test requires only a few millilitres of blood and can be performed at any laboratory, it added.

It said over 900 women had been studied using the new method, of whom 500 had breast cancer and 400 were healthy patients.


Rübsam-Brodkorb said the hospital apologised to women who might have been given false hope that they would be able to use the test soon. "We very much regret that," she said.

Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer to affect women in German, with around 70,000 women developing breast cancer last year.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), cancer is the second most frequent cause of death in Europe, with more than 3.7 million new cases and 1.9 million deaths each year.

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