Research toward early detection of breast cancer recurrence

Scientists at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust have just published results of their work toward developing a blood test to help detect those women who might relapse and get recurrent cancer after primary treatment for breast cancer. 

Preliminary results have shown promise in a group of 55 women with early-stage breast cancer who were treated with neoadjuvant therapy first and then surgery. Neoadjuvant therapy is treatment with chemotherapy, targeted therapy drugs or hormone therapy before surgery. In these women the test showed evidence of persistent disease or recurrence on average nearly eight months before conventional techniques such as imaging scans showed recurrence.

The test detects changes in DNA circulating in the blood that is released from breast cancer cells. However for the test to work DNA extracted from the patient’s cancer cells obtained at breast biopsy must be tested for the presence of common breast cancer mutations. If they are present the lab designs a patient-specific PCR reaction test for that patient and then follows them up using that test.

There are several limitations of this study that will take time to resolve. Firstly the study was small and needs to be repeated with much larger numbers of patients. Secondly, the results only apply to a specific group of women with breast cancer who have neoadjuvant therapy and then surgery. Thirdly, it is not yet known whether having the information about the risk of recurrence early will translate into benefits for the patients by starting rescue treatment earlier.

Thus it is likely to be years before these results will be useful to women with newly-diagnosed breast cancer but it is a step along the way to improving breast cancer treatment.

Further Reading

Science Daily
The Verge
medGadget (video)

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