According to a new study, researchers have designed a blood test capable of detecting the recurrence of early-stage breast cancer. This would offer doctors the possibility to prescribe highly personalized treatments and to detect tumors 8 months before a medical scan could signal their presence.
The team at London’s Institute of Cancer Research asked 55 participants to be included in the analysis. All of the volunteers had suffered from early stage breast cancer and had been treated using chemotherapy, followed by surgery. Scientists collected blood samples from each of these patients regularly, during a 2-year period. Cancer recurrence affected 15 of the subjects, and blood tests predicted it correctly in 12 of these cases, approximately 8 months in advance compared to conventional screening methods, such as mammograms.
The technique consisted in using highly-sensitive genetic sequences, each corresponding to a particular anomaly. Faulty cancer DNA was shed by the affected tissue in the bloodstream, causing tumor-related mutations. Some of the test results showed drug-resistant changes, leading physicians to recommend the most effective and specific treatments that would directly target the illness. Scientists also established that breast cancer survivors whose bloodstream contained cancerous genes were 12% more likely to have the illness return.
Nicholas Turner, lead author and member of the Institute of Cancer Research in London, explained, `If we can identify better who is at risk of relapse, we can direct treatments to prevent relapse specifically to them. Women who still have tumor DNA detectable have a high risk’.
Thanks to the test, doctors will be able to assess in a more accurate and timely manner whose cancer could return after completing treatment. This type of ’liquid biopsy’ could provide doctors with `a window of opportunity to treat cancer while it is still theoretically curable’, notes Dr. Tilak Sundaresan, an oncologist at the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center. This is particularly important because breast cancer remains one of the leading causes of death among women.
Nowadays, 95% of breast cancers are detected early, but it is vital to establish as soon as possible whether treatment has completely removed the disease from the body. Although research is still its embryonic stages and it will take time until such a test is widely available to patients, further advancements in this field could have the potential to save millions of lives.
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