A new test could predict cancer up to 13 years before the disease surfaces, according to recent research.

Harvard and Northwestern University’s report, which was published in the online journal Ebiomedicine last week, shows that a person’s risk of developing cancer could be predicted thanks to changes in their chromosomes.

The study, which included 792 people over a 13-year period, found that the telomeres – the end of the chromosomes that contain our DNA – became shorter in the 135 participants who later went on to develop cancer.

Professor Gareth Evans, professor of clinical genetics at Genesis Breast Cancer Prevention, said: “The recent findings are of great importance to the prediction of cancer – including breast cancer – as it may allow individuals with this blood change to delay the onset of the disease by taking preventative measures. These could include changes to lifestyle and diet and more intensive screening appointments, including whole-body MRI scans.

“However, such genetic testing does not provide a comprehensive account of the nature of the cancer the individual could go on to develop. The test doesn’t identify where the cancer will occur, merely that it will develop somewhere, meaning the method of screening cannot be customised. As a result, targeted prevention measures could be hindered.

“Here at Genesis, we conduct vital research into various ways of predicting breast cancer, one of which is genetic testing. At the moment, we’re looking into how SNPs, which are unique variations in our DNA building block, act as the genetic basis of breast density. Women with denser breasts at breast screening age have a higher risk of developing breast cancer.

“Understanding how this mapping works will help identify those women with a high risk of developing the disease and aid us in the development of new strategies to reduce their risk and prevent breast cancer.

“So, if we can understand how SNPs and breast density are linked, then we’ll have a good grounding for finding new ways to predict and prevent the disease for future generations.”