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Pioneering test can predict whether breast cancer will return

August 9th, 2017

A pioneering test could be used to predict whether breast cancer will return (metastasise), according to the results of a new study.

Patients with clustered immune cells, known as ‘hotspots’, were 25 per cent more likely to relapse within 10 years.

The likelihood of cancer returning within five years was 23 per cent higher in women with the hotspots, the study found.

Those whose immune cells were evenly dispersed stood a better chance of fending off cancer for good.

How common is metastatic breast cancer?

Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia[i], and up to a third of women diagnosed may experience metastatic breast cancer later in life – up to 15 years or more later.[ii]

The 5-year survival rate for women diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in Australia is low, at around 25 per cent.[iii]

What the results mean for breast cancer treatment

Dr Yinyin Yuan, from The Institute of Cancer Research in London, said her team had developed a new, automated computer tool that spatially measures tumours.

While larger studies are needed before the technology can be rolled out in clinics, Dr Yuan said, “In future, such a test could pick out patients at the highest risk of their cancer returning.”

Once the new test is validated, it could be used to help doctors predict the risk of relapse and take a more personalised approach to the right course of treatment for those with breast cancer. In future, it may also help doctors prescribe preventative drugs to help keep the disease at bay.

Research is improving our understanding of the immune system

The effect of immune hotspots on the chance of relapse could be linked to how the immune system is working in these cancers.

Better understanding of the immune system in breast cancer could in future help unpick why certain treatments that target the immune system, called immunotherapies, work in some patients but not others, and lead to finding new immunotherapy drug targets.


[i] Cancer  Australia. https://canceraustralia.gov.au/affected-cancer/cancer-types/breast-cancer/breast-cancer-statistics

[ii] Global status of advanced / metastatic breast cancer decade report, 2016

[iii] Cancer Australia. Report to the nation – breast cancer 2012, Cancer Australia, 2012