Patient undergoes mammogram test

Irish scientists may have found an alternative to the dreaded mammogram in a bid to reduce the incidence of breast cancer.

Researchers from the National University of Ireland Galway have identified a new blood test that can act as an "early warning" system.

The test, which is being discussed as a potential replacement for mammograms, can alert doctors if the disease is recurring.

The researchers from the school's department of surgery presented their study results at the world’s biggest breast cancer conference in San Antonio in the U.S.

The study found a link between breast cancer and substances called microRNAs which are found in the blood of patients with breast cancer.

Professor Michael Kerin, who led the team, said there was good reason for optimism.

“This early work suggests a combination of mir195 and Let7a (two specific types of microRNA) are sensitive markers for the presence of breast cancers in over 90 percent of cases," he said. "This raises the possibility of their use in screening for breast cancer.”

MicroRNAs are tiny fragments of genetic code which act as both suppressors and promoters of cancer growth.

The MicroRNAs called mir195 and Let7a are powerful players in the development and propagation of breast cancer.

The study looked at 83 women with breast cancer and 44 women who did not have the disease who acted as controls.

They found that levels of the two miRNA markers were more than 10 times greater in the women with breast cancer.

They also found that blood levels of mir195 dropped to the level found in the cancer-free women after surgeons removed the cancers.