Blood Tests for Diagnosis and Treatment in the Works for Breast Cancer

By Cohn, Meredith | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), October 31, 2014 | Go to article overview

Blood Tests for Diagnosis and Treatment in the Works for Breast Cancer


Cohn, Meredith, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


BALTIMORE - After breast cancer tumors are removed, many women undergo chemotherapy to eradicate any remaining cancer cells and reduce the risk that the disease will recur. The drugs can make them nauseated and anxious and lead to hair loss.

But a blood test under development at Johns Hopkins University could reduce the number of women who need chemotherapy significantly by revealing who has residual cancer cells after surgery to remove the tumors.

"Oncologists are over-treating breast cancer because they don't know who to treat" after surgery, said Dr. Ben Ho Park, a Hopkins associate professor of oncology working on the test. "Wouldn't it be great if we could tell patients they're actually free of their cancer?"

This is one of many avenues researchers are following in the hunt for simple, useful blood tests for breast cancer, the most common kind for women after skin cancer, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Every year more than 200,000 women are diagnosed and 40,000 die.

Most tests remain many years away, if they ever become commercially available. Eventually they may be able not only to reliably predict if breast cancer is likely to return, but to diagnose the disease before there are symptoms and track the effectiveness of treatment.

Most testing now isn't so simple. Just to differentiate the type of breast cancer a patient has, for example, surgeons must examine a small piece of the tumor under a microscope.

A blood test widely used now only identifies the small number of women with inherited gene mutations that increase the risk of eventually developing breast cancer. There are some blood tests to show if cancer has recurred, but they are often inaccurate.

Dr. Park's test seeks to identify with certainty the 30 percent of early-stage breast cancer patients who will have a recurrence so they can get additional therapies such as chemotherapy, while those not expected to get the disease again can be spared the toxic and expensive treatment.

The test would look for DNA molecules that cancer cells shed into the blood. …

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Blood Tests for Diagnosis and Treatment in the Works for Breast Cancer
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