A basic blood test may provide breast cancer patients with a warning of the disease returning after surgery and chemotherapy. The test has been created by the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) in London. The test results showed a small numbers of residual tumour cells in some patients. These have dodged the treatment by detecting cancer DNA in the blood stream. Such a test can predict a relapse up to eight months before new tumours are detected in hospital scans. The highest risk of recurrence is within two years after treatment.
In recent findings, blood tests carried out on 55 women showed which patients were likely to suffer a relapse. Circulating tumour DNA was positive in some women and was twelve times more at risk of a reoccurrence than women who tested negative. Tests have successfully identified signs of relapse in 80% of patients and almost eight months before visible signs of the cancer returned. The tests have helped to better track and trace the mutations that remain, grow and spread through the body after treatment. Such results are promising in the advancement of modern medicine.
The study, although interesting and hopeful to many, has some limitations. The group of women tested was a small group. Therefore, studies will have to be repeated using a much larger group and different variables such as blood sampled over a period of more than two years after treatment. Researchers were looking for results which showed mutations that are common in all subtypes of breast cancer. Prof. Paul Workman, chief executive at ICR says, “This test could help us stay ahead of cancer by monitoring the way its adapting and using treatments that exploit the weakness of the tumor.”
Researchers say that it is an important step towards the use of liquid biopsies to drastically change breast cancer care. This helps doctors to decide on the best treatments for cancer patients.
According to the World Health Organization, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. It is also the second most common cause of death in women after lung cancer. In the UK alone, breast cancer cases amount to about 50 000 of which 12000 result in deaths. That is a staggering number!
Such a test would be an easy, non-invasive way of identifying patients that may be able to benefit from future treatments. However, this test is a long way from daily use in clinical practice. Many more studies are required after this first study before the test can enter clinics. We all know the saying, “Prevention is better than cure.” If doctors could prevent such a horrible disease from spreading, it would indeed be a remarkable progression in modern medicine.
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