New test could improve treatment and boost survival

October 31st, 2013

UK researchers have developed a test for breast cancer that could soon help doctors to better tailor treatment and boost survival rates.

The test, which could be ready for use in the clinic within two years, identifies seven different subtypes of breast cancer, giving more accurate information about prognosis and clues to which cancer treatment may be most effective for that breast cancer type.

Currently, breast cancer biopsies are routinely tested for two markers: the oestrogen receptor (ER) and human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2), which helps doctors determine whether treatments such as tamoxifen (for ER-positive tumours), Herceptin (for HER2-positive tumours), or chemotherapy should be used.

However, despite these tests, some patients respond really well to treatment and others don’t, emphasising the need for more specific ways to help guide treatment more effectively.

Genetic studies completed early last year revealed the complexity of breast cancer by showing it can be divided into up to 10 different forms of the disease based on a patient’s genetic make-up. However, these subtypes can only be identified using detailed genetic profiling, which is costly and impractical for most patients.

Dr Andy Green and colleagues at the University of Nottingham have developed a simple method that screens for 10 key proteins that identify seven different types of breast cancer.

Dr Green said the technology needed to measure the proteins in tumour samples already existed in most pathology laboratories.

National Breast Cancer Foundation Director, Research Investment, Dr Alison Butt, said the research was an important step to developing more effective breast cancer treatments tailored for the individual patient.

“We know that breast cancer is not one disease but probably up to 10 different subtypes – all of which may respond in different ways to different treatments,” she said.

“If these subtypes of breast cancer can be easily and routinely identified from a biopsy, it will help doctors to select the most effective treatment for that specific breast cancer, and help prevent patients from receiving unnecessary treatment.”