New breast cancer test to personalize treatment

By Jeremy Thompson, Staff Writer

Researchers at the Huntsman Cancer Institute have developed a test that will help with the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer.

The technique utilizes patterns from 50 different genes to determine what specific subtype of breast cancer each patient has and then predicts the therapy that is most likely to work against the cancer.

“Each type of tumor has different treatments that are effective against it,” said Philip Bernard, an investigator at the institute and a professor of pathology at the U. “This test helps us to understand what type of treatment to give to each patient to maximize their potential at having a successful outcome.”

Bernard explained that there are four subtypes of breast cancer tumors. Each subtype displays a specific pattern of gene regulation. Some tumors express certain genes at high levels, while others express the same gene at a low level. By analyzing all 50 genes together, specific patterns can be detected.

Based on the data from these patterns, different tumor types have responded better to traditional treatment methods such as chemotherapy, while other tumor types respond better to methods such as clinical trials.

Bernard indicated that any given tumor can be made up of a combination of the four subtypes. By understanding what subtypes of tumors are present, doctors can develop a personalized treatment regimen that benefits the patient.

“The test is able to diagnose which patients need minimal treatment, and which patients need more aggressive methods,” said Matthew Ellis, a professor of oncology at Washington University in St. Louis and co-author of the study. “We are hoping to understand the risk of reoccurrence of the cancer so that we can treat the patient in a way to maximize their potential for normal recovery and prevent the cancer from coming back.”

One in eight women will develop breast cancer during her lifetime, making it one of the most prevalent types of cancer in the United States.

Ellis said the test is valuable to doctors because it provides an alternative to traditional treatments that carry a high rate of side effects, such as hair loss or breast removal.

“Some patients can be treated by surgery only,” he said. “If that is the case, there is no reason to pursue a course of invasive treatment. The less we impact the patient, the better.”

Although the test is currently available only at the U, the goal is to expand it so that it can be performed in health centers across the country.

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